Using zones in your coaching session

I was coaching the U16s last night and as part of the session I split a 60×40 area in to three zones (so it was 3 x 20 x 40 zones) with the focus of the session on quick passing. There were goals at each end and within each zone I had a 2v2 setup and the only restrictions were that players had to remain within the zone (initially) and I wanted goalies to throw/roll the ball out.

What I noticed as the session moved forward was that when the ball progressed from the defensive third (based on the team in possession) to the middle third, the players in the defensive third switched off as the focus of the play was then happening between the midfield and forward zones; this was also evident in the opposing team.

To address this I worked with the defensive group on both teams regards them supporting behind the ball, being active and ensuring they were always an option for the midfield zone.

However, on seeing this it occurred to me that this isn’t the first time I’ve seen it happen in such a session (albeit with U9s 6-8 weeks back) and therefore, is the fact that this setup isn’t fully match realistic causing the players in the “inactive” zone to switch off or does the setup actually highlight that the players aren’t inactive?

My views, having not used this extensively, is that it does enable you to focus your coaching point on players in a specific zone and that it does seem to highlight inactivity (i.e. they should be supporting behind the ball) but I’m not convinced players enjoy it (although I haven’t seen/heard evidence of this) because of the restrictions.

The game I used last night became a lot more dynamic once I allowed either team to move a third player in to either zone and that opened up further coaching points but moving forward I’m yet to decide if I’ll use a zone setup again or not.

I’d be interested to know your views on them, do you use them regularly or do you steer away from them due to the lack of game realism?

About Simon
Grassroots Football Coach

One Response to Using zones in your coaching session

  1. Emanuele says:


    as usual, good post – it helps us thinking and improving our coaching.

    I’ve tried something similar with my U10 and it happened the same: players outside the active zone switched off. I’ve done some research and it seems (experienced coaches said so) players (not kids only) tend to switch off when the ball goes out the pitch or far away from where they are, I guess this is true for the zone games too.
    I’ve then tried a modified version of the game with my senior teams (25+): basically when the ball goes from one zone to the other the player who passed the ball follow it into the other zone, and with him/her two (three, one, …) other players, they will then go back when the ball is lost or goes into new zone. The fact not only the player made the pass but other 2-3 more has to move kept all players awake and focus as they had to look at each other and communicate to decide quickly who was going into the other zone.

    Talking about realism: I know what the FA “guidelines” are, but my personal experience as coach and player is that if a drill works it’s fine even if is not game-related.

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