Soccer set pieces are a crucial part of the game; from grassroots level to professional clubs, an increasing amount of value is being placed on set plays. But how important are they in youth soccer? In this Q+A, we consider the benefits of working on set pieces with young players, explore the growing role of set piece coaching, and discuss how we can incorporate it in our sessions.

In This Article

Should I Coach Set Pieces In the Foundation Phase?

During the Foundation Phase (ages 8-12 in the UK), we may wish to focus our limited contact time on other areas, such as ball mastery and developing a love for the game.

“I haven’t coached set pieces too much with Foundation-age players,” says James Coutts, Coaching Advisor at PDP. “But I might go to individual players who like taking free kicks or corners and give them individual tasks. For instance, if there’s a free kick, can they get on it and find a pass straight away? Little things like that can set them up nicely for later on, when they go through the Youth Development Phase and set plays become more important.”

How Important are Soccer Set Pieces?

“Set pieces can really tie into your philosophy as a coach,” says Coutts. “It’s interesting in the professional game; you’re starting to see designated set play coaches, and they’re not just covering free kicks and corners, it’s everything.”

“It’s certainly a big part of the game as players get towards senior football, but where you allocate your time with players still needs consideration,” says PDP Co-Founder Dave Wright. “If you’ve only got one or two sessions per week with a team, you may only have 5-10 minutes to work on this.”

Is there Value in Coaching Throw Ins?

“When I was coming through as a player at Bournemouth, throw ins were incredibly important,” recalls Coutts. “Our coach was into statistics and emphasized how often you would win the ball by defending a throw in properly. If the opposition got 15 throw ins a game and we retained the ball on 12 of them, that was 12 more opportunities to build, to potentially get in the final third and score.” 

“So, for us, a goal would be to force the opposition into a long, hopeful throw down the line. I personally place a lot of value in these little details, particularly when you’re playing at higher levels.”

“That’s a great example of redefining success,” adds Wright. “We know that forcing the opposition long is success for us because we’ll likely win the ball and get a chance to build. That’s a great way to frame it for developing players.”

How Do You Coach Free Kicks and Corners?

With corner kick plays and free kick set pieces, players must understand what’s expected of them. “I’d give them visual aids,” says Coutts. “I’d always go to the set piece takers first, and then we’d relay it to everybody and ensure that we’re all on the same page.”

“Generally, set plays aren’t the 15 minutes of the session that players look forward to. So, for me, it’s about minimizing the boredom for them while still making sure that we’re organized, that everybody understands their roles.”

Examples of Attacking Corners From Professional Coaches

Find the Gap: PDP Co-Founder & UEFA A licensed coach, Dave Wright

This corner takes some practice but can be very effective for creating near post one touch scoring chances. Four players line up on the far side of the penalty area. They position themselves there to drag defenders away from the space where the ball will be played. It’s important these players sell the fact they are going to make runs.

The near post player and the player near ‘The D’ on top of the penalty area both make runs towards the ball (feigning a short corner). Ideally this will drag defenders, but worst case it creates a distraction and space.

The furthest player on the end of the wall runs behind the wall (who initially hold their position to block) and sprints to the space approximately 9-12 yards out at the near post. The corner taker drives a low, fast pass into the space for the runner to arrive and strike first time. It’s important to have a right footed and left footed option for this play so you can utilise them on each side of the field.

Finally, 2/3 of the remaining players from the wall can make runs after the runner has gone around them to attack the ball should it not hit it’s mark, while one player holds to pick up failed clearances or an overhit corner that goes through the penalty area for second phase opportunities.

attacking corners set play
The set up (without opposition).
soccer set pieces
The set up with an example of how the opposition may defend.

Deliver on the GK: Former New Zealand Women’s Head Coach, Tony Readings

Key points:

  • 5 players stand in and around the GK (they are closer to the GK than in the image)
  • 1 player is in front of the GK, 1 x player is behind the GK
  • 3 players are just outside these and split the goal but still fairly central
  • 2 players on the edge that are aggressive for the 2nd phase and read the flight of the ball to adjust their positioning to increase their chances of winning 2nd phase
  • 1 player is half locking and holding (if the opposition only leave one up)
  • 1 player stays back

The ball is floated with as little pace as possible on top of the GK

This corner often results in goals from a little touch as nobody can get a run up to clear the ball and the GK is often blocked.

The corner also works well for second and third phase as there is no pace on the ball which means it does not cleared with much distance and can create opportunities for shots in and around the penalty area.

corner set piece
The set up (without opposition).
Defending a corner
The set up with an example of how the opposition may defend.

The Bus Stop: PDP Co-Founder & UEFA A Licensed Coach, Dave Wright

This corner was inspired by the England team at the 2018 World Cup.

4 players line up around the top of the penalty area vertically. An out swinging corner between should be delivered around 9 yards out (often “no mans land” for goalkeepers).

Three of the four attacking runners make varied runs to attack front, near and central areas. These three runs also allow for a margin of error on the cross (if it’s under-hit or overhit). Ideally you would place your tallest players in the bus stop formation as the three runners. Players should use double movements to drag their opponents away. The fourth player holds their position on top of the penalty area for clearances and second phase opportunities.

The two players on each corner of the penalty area have roles. The near post player is positioned there to draw a defender out and create space. The player on the far side can also drag someone out, but more importantly plays the role of the “bin man” and picks up any overhit crosses or failed clearances. The role of the player on the goalkeeper is to impede the view or block where possible, creating space for the three runners from the bus stop.

The set up (without opposition).
The set up with an example of how the opposition may defend.

How Can We Help Players Defend Set Pieces?

How we defend set pieces will depend on the age and ability of our players. “At senior level, you need to be organized and know what your structure is if you’re defending free kicks or corners,” says Wright. But in the Foundation Phase, we might simply challenge our players to be alert whenever we concede a set piece.

This also gives us another opportunity to work with the individuals on our team. “If you have players within your group who love defending, bring them in,” advises Coutts. “Ask them what their jobs could be, or how they think we could improve when we concede free kicks in certain areas. Open up those conversations. It will help them to feel like they’re owning the process of defending the corner or free kick and you’ll get more buy-in.”

What Is the Best Way to Practice Penalties? 

We often try to give our players experiences that resemble the game of soccer, but this can be difficult when it comes to the pressure of taking penalties. “I think we should aim to recreate that feeling without the actual outcome if they miss,” suggests Coutts. “Can we be creative in bringing it into our sessions?”

Wright believes we can: “If you’re finishing your session with a small-sided game (or any kind of opposed practice) and it’s a draw, set up a penalty shoot-out. It drives a bit of competition and provides some pressure in front of their teammates.”

“Another option is to create that scenario on gameday by agreeing with the opposition to have a penalty shootout at the end, regardless of the outcome. There’s no result on the line, but we’re trying to help the kids experience that. That’s something you could run through all age groups.”

Image Source: Pixabay

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