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Activity variables – possession, transition

The rules associated with possession and transitions in a session activity create a framework within which the players must solve problems:
  • The number of passes that are required by the team within a possession (either a minimum or maximum)
  • Touch restrictions (minimum or maximum number allowed) by a single player during their possession
  • An amount of time required for possession before shooting (typically maximum)
  • Specific players that must participate in the possession (either individual or neutrals)
  • Actions required on either passing or receiving the ball
  • Whether offside is enforced and whether it is based on the opponent’s positioning or a fixed line
  • Actions that are required when a transition occurs, including changes in roles or positions

The possession and transition rules may be applied to all players or may be limited to specific zones or players. For example, an activity may allow unlimited touches for all players except for neutrals, which are limited to 2 touches. Or, an activity may limit players in the penalty area to at most 5 seconds before shooting. The following paragraphs describe possible rules in more detail.

Pass restrictions are often applied using a minimum number before shooting – for example, 3 passes are required before a shot. Generally, there are two purposes to this restriction – to develop securing possession by the attacking team and allow the defending team to organize, creating a more complex problem for the attackers. An alternative is to require a maximum number of passes before a shot – for example, at most 3 passes are allowed before a shot. This type of restriction creates urgency for the attacking team and will encourage attackers to take on defenders individually rather than relying on teammates. The activity may localize the use of pass restrictions to a specific part of the field – for example, a maximum number of passes allowed in the defending half of the field.

4v4 - only 1 pass allowed in defensive half

Touch restrictions are a common rule used in session activities. Often, the restriction is defined as a maximum – players are allowed at most a specific number of touches (typically ranging from 1 to 4). A maximum touch restriction encourages speed of play and movement off the ball, increases demands on players cognitively to decide upon a course of action before receiving the ball, and improves body shape and positioning to maximize options when receiving and demand technical quality. A negative side of a maximum touch restriction is a limitation on the elements of the 1v1 encounter. Players with a touch restriction will have to lay the ball off rather than taking on opponents.

A specific touch restriction (exactly a certain number of touches) may also be used. An example is an alternating pattern – 1 touch by the first player, then 3 touches by the next player. The intent is to develop situational awareness in the players.

The use of minimum touch restrictions is much less common – players are required to touch the ball at least a certain number of times (for example, 3) before passing the ball. The intent is to develop the player’s ability to possess the ball and make purposeful decisions. In smaller space activities, minimum touch restrictions often involve holding off defenders during possessions.

A maximum time constraint in possession – typically limiting possession to a specific amount of time before a shot – demands urgency in the attacking team and rewards the defending team for patience. The use of minimum time constraints (for example, keeping the ball for at least a certain amount of time) may be used to develop possession tendencies – although the use of minimum pass counts is usually preferred. A specific example of a minimum time constraint is in a 1v1 shielding activity where a player must hold off their opponent for a fixed amount of time.

2v2 flying changes - teams have 5 seconds to score

Within a possession, the required participation of certain players can be used to initiate patterns of play (for example, crossing), develop abilities within functional groups (for example, when midfielders are used as neutrals), and create certain conditions (for example, when every possession must include the goalkeeper).

4v4+2 - every possession must include a neutral
6v6+2 - every possession must include a wide player

Passing and receiving triggers can be applied to add dynamic to an activity. A typical example is within an activity where certain players are restricted to zones and a pass results in the passer and receiver switching zones. An alternative is to have players outside an activity join in when receiving a pass.

3v3+2+2 - player on outside switches with passer
1v1+2 add teammates - on pass to corners, player joins game

An offside rule can be used to discourage certain behaviors by the attacking team (pushing players behind the defensive line to score easy goals) or encourage behaviors (in the case of a line in which all players must be over to score). The use of an offside line decreases the size of the field and can provide more challenges to the attacking players to possess and time ttheir movements going forward.

6v6 - offside lines
6v6 - entire team must be out of defending third

A variation of an offside rule is a “no-fly” zone – in which players of the attacking team are not allowed to enter when not in possession. A typical use of a no-fly zone is to allow an attacking team to organize in a defending portion of the field. Another use is to require attacking teams to shoot from a distance, rather than bringing the ball close to goal.

4v4 triangle goals - attackers may not cross line

A variety of actions might be required when a transition occurs. These include:

  • Playing to a specific player (for example, the goalkeeper)
  • Playing to a particular zone (for example, if the field is divided into channels, switching to a different channel)
  • An action required by the player that loses possession (for example, taking a knee for a short period to create a numbers-down situation for their team)

There are several methods in which players may change roles during a transition:

  • Players or teams shift positions – going from inside to outside a zone
  • The player or team that loses possession takes a defending role, and the player or team gaining possession takes an attacking or neutral role
4v4+5 - Red and White swap roles on change of possession
3v1 rondo - switch defender on change of possession

There are many ways that rules associated with possession and transition can be combined in an activity. Progressions can be created by making slight changes to the rules. It is essential that the coach considers the intent and expected outcomes of the rules being used.