At every level of the game, 1v1 duels are a fundamental part of soccer. So it’s vital that we help our players develop the skills to feel confident and thrive in these situations when they arise on gameday. Below, we look at the different kinds of 1v1 soccer skills, explain why they’re so important to player development, and outline some of the best 1 on 1 soccer training exercises.

In This Article

Why are 1 on 1 Soccer Skills So Important?

Many people associate 1 on 1 soccer skills with carrying the ball, but there are more important core skills than simply knowing how to beat someone in 1 on 1, face-to-face duels. “People often think about skills and tricks, but that is only part of a 1v1,” explains PDP Technical Advisor Dan Wright, who maintains that attributes like the ability to find space, or receive the ball and play out in tight situations, are just as important to helping players become 1v1 dominant. “There are many different 1v1s in the game that you have to consider.”

How Do 1 on 1 Situations Relate to the Game?

Understanding that 1 on 1’s occur throughout the game, and giving kids experience in these situations, is crucial to helping them develop a technical base and preparing them for their journey in soccer. “Within the 1v1, there are three parts of the game: Attack, defense, and transition,” says Dave Wright, Co-Founder of PDP. “So much within that moment represents the game, so it’s critical in player development.”

In a Masterclass with PDP, Kris Van Der Haegen, Director of Coach Education at the Belgian FA, explains how the famous Belgian Model of player development embraced this approach by transitioning to small-sided games centered on individual duels — a move credited in the development of world-class soccer players such as Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku.

How Do 1 on 1 Situations Prepare Players for the Future?

Given the changes that occur within the game, and the unforeseen demands this places on players, helping kids to improve their 1 on 1 soccer skills is integral in preparing them for the future. “The game has become more physical from a movement point of view… You now have center-halves who should be able to play in midfield. Nobody knows what the game will look like in ten years,” explains Mark Lyons, Pre-Academy Coordinator and Lead Coach at Leicester City FC. “But if you make a player 1v1 dominant, that’s the thing that will always stay in the game — that me-versus-you battle.”

1v1 Soccer Training Exercises

1v1 Defensive Decision-Making

This 1 on 1 soccer practice focuses on defensive decisions, encouraging players to consider when to press and when to hold.

A server plays a fast pass into the attacking player to test their touch, then the defensive player opposes the attacking player. While the attacker tries to score in a mini-goal, the defender aims to win the ball and drive into the gate opposite.

“The decision of the defender will be based on the information they see in front of them,” explains Dave Wright. “Has the attacker got the ball under control? Maybe they need to delay and force the attacker away from the goal. If the touch is poor, maybe it’s a trigger to press.

“The aim is to encourage creativity and risk-taking from the player on the ball, and character traits like determination and perseverance from the defender.”

Individual Possession Practice

Roughly 80% of all receiving situations occur with pressure coming from behind, so it’s vital that we use 1 on 1 soccer training exercises to practice individual possession and receiving from different angles.

In this practice, an attacker attempts to move from one end of the playing area to the other by passing and receiving between two target players at either end while a defender tries to stop them. Additional support for the attacker can also be provided from players outside the playing area. If the defensive player wins the ball, they switch.

“It’s important to consider where the player is receiving,” says Wright. “Is it off the shoulder? Is it double movements to try to lose the defender? Then we can look at receiving shapes, to face forward on the half-turn and try to play forwards quickly. Don’t over-coach. Allow your players plenty of opportunities to explore different 1v1 solutions.”

Defending At an Angle

This 2 player soccer practice places the goal diagonally across from the attacker, causing them to approach the defender at an angle instead of meeting face-to-face. While the attacker tries to score, the defender gets a point by either showing the attacker to a box away from goal or by winning the ball and driving into an end zone.

“The focus is on 1v1 defending,” says Wright. “We’re going to manipulate the direction of the ball so that the defenders get to work on defending from in-front, defending from the side, and a pursuit from behind.

“Key coaching considerations to think about are pressing, denying space, delaying, showing away from goal, and blocking and tackling.”

Examples of 1v1 Practices

1v1 Defensive Decision Making

View a live example of this practice with Melbourne Victory U20 players by clicking here.

1v1 from the side/front. Server passes the ball to attacker. This represents a turnover. Defender quickly closes down the space and tries to win the ball. Attacker tries to score in the mini goal or dribble through a gate. If defender wins possession, they must drive over the end line (attacking transition). Adjust the practice by changing the position of the defender. Players rotate roles after each set. Set up multiple stations to ensure high repetition and no queues.

1v1 Dealing with Pressure

View a live example of this practice with Football Victoria U15 players by clicking here.

1v1 practice designed to help players deal with pressure when defender presses from behind. Server plays ball in to red attacker. Attacker must go 1v1 to score. Use mini goals or gates to dribble through. Can adapt to allow attackers to score in any goal, or only the goal directly behind them. Can progress to allow attacker to set the ball back to server to work on 2v1s.

1v1 Duels

This practice is designed to allow for multiple 1v1s or 1v2s from a variety of angles. Half of the players on the outside have a ball. Objective is to drive into space and find a spare team mate on the outside. Players cannot pass to a team mate they must dribble to them and their team mate takes it off their touch. If a defender wins the ball, the attacker they won it from takes their place and defends. Adapt the practice by adding/removing balls or adding/removing defenders.

The Key Points

  • 1v1s Occur throughout the game, making 1v1 soccer practices essential preparation for gameday.
  • Practicing 1 on 1 soccer skills is crucial to helping kids develop a solid technical base.
  • We may not be able to predict what the game will look like in the future, but we can help our players to become 1v1 dominant.
  • There’s a huge range of 1 on 1 soccer training exercises that we can use to work on different moments of the game.

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