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Introduction to a passing pattern framework

Is there a value in utilizing passing patterns in practice sessions?

Our answer is “yes” – by providing a framework and developing the relationship between the pattern and our game model.

Let’s consider our objectives in a training session. In short, we want to put our players in activities that will develop their abilities along the traditional dimensions – technical, tactical, physical, psychosocial.  And, we want the activities to have a clear relationship to the game and the problems it presents.

205 Sports supports the principles of play defined by the TOVO methodology.

We also support a philosophy in which the psychosocial elements – in particular the behaviors of perception, decision making, and action – are a fundamental component of the practice environment.

In the traditional passing “drill”, the behaviors of perception and decision making have been removed. The graphic below demonstrates a simple triangle passing pattern:

Triangle FYP with wall pass

Players are instructed by the coach who will provide the pass, the movements of the players prior to and after the pass, the attributes of the pass (pace, trajectory, spin), and the target of the next pass. The players are solely responsible for their execution. Further, the passing drill does not involve active opposition. Mistakes – quality of pass, movement, and touch – are not punished through loss of possession. Lack of opposition also removes from the players the necessity to adjust their actions based on the environment – for example, making a tighter first touch due to pressure or directing a touch based on the position of the opponent.

A passing activity can help players develop technical skills – within certain limits. For example, in our triangle drill, we can work with players on the quality of their passes (pace, trajectory, spin, accuracy),  their first touch, their movements prior to receiving the ball and subsequent to their pass, and the shape of their runs. The “certain limits” refer back to what happens if the pass is off or the run is early, etc. The answer is “nothing” – the drill continues on. The coach may choose to stop the drill or to instruct the player as the activity continues or to shout out a correction. There are repetitions, which can be good – except that the repetitions may be flawed.

Another example is the classic cross-and-finish pattern show below:

Diamond early cross to far post

Questions that arise:

  • Is the cross the right decision here?
  • How does the passer know which target to pick?
  • What if the pass into the crosser is too slow or off-target?
  • What is the position of the opposition players?

In short, the activity feels like ball-kicking rather than game preparation.

In addition to the lack of realistic environmental problems, the passing drill often suffers from a lack of relationship to a game model. For example, when would I use the triangle pattern or the crossing pattern in a real game? In the case of the triangle pattern, what happens “next” – do the players move to another space on the field, is the ball launched forward, do we play backward to switch field – and how do we decide among these options?

So, how can we utilize the idea of a passing activity within our principles and game model?

A game model provides a foundation for decision making. This article (click image for link) provides an introduction to a game model:

We view the passing pattern as an opportunity to “rehearse” aspects of the game model – if the pattern is structured in a manner that has a relationship to the game and has a clear path to the introduction of opposition. In this sense, the passing pattern fills a gap that “live” activities such as rondos and positional play do not – providing a deconstructed recipe for our players to solve a particular problem. When we add defenders and create an active game, we look for our players to read cues and determine which recipe to use.

One of the beauties of rondos and positional play is that once players understand the basic framework and “rules”, a variety of formats can be used with little pre-instruction. Consider these three activities:

4v2+1 - 5v2
4v4+3 - 7v4

Each activity has varying spaces and challenges. But, once the players understand who goes where, the focus is on perception, decision making, and execution.

At 205, we have defined a framework (“platform”) that can be used to implement a variety of passing patterns, suitable to application within different aspects of a game model – thirds of the field, combinations of players, shooting/finishing, and so on.

  1. By reusing the platform in different patterns, we want to minimize the amount of “startup time” our players require to engage in the activity.
  2. We want our platform to also allow for carrying of the ball – dribbling, feints, and other on-ball actions.
  3. The platform should support progressions – changes to aspects of an activity that increase the physical, technical, or cognitive challenges on the players.
  4. The platform should include some type of static “defenders” – positioning of cones or other obstacles to mimic the game.
  5. The platform should allow us to add physical defenders where appropriate to support progression into a more game-like situation.

Here is the platform that we are proposing:

Passing platform 210712

The platform includes 8 players – a center back, 2 wing backs, 2 central midfielders, and 3 forwards. It is possible to decrease the number of positions for particular types of activities – by not including them in a combination – or to have the pattern recycle in the “opposite” direction. We can adjust the spacing based on the age/ability of our players and our objectives within our game model.

The use of cones on the wings provides “static” defenders and reference points to work around or against.

Here is an example of a passing pattern to build out of the back. In this example, the activity restarts from each end.


It is important that the players have an understanding of their rotation through positions – this will allow the activity to flow smoothly.

We believe that communication with the players – providing them an opportunity to understand not the just the “how” of the pattern but also the “when” and the “why” is a crucial part of the learning process. A clear relationship between the pattern and the game model is necessary. The pattern should not devolve to “going through the motions”.

We will provide some examples of patterns within our game model and using our platform in upcoming articles in this series.