Attacking Transitions – Full Session Plan and Key Coaching Points



Attacking transitions are one of the four key phases of the beautiful game. They can be defined as the movements and patterns of play after the first regain of possession in order to set up the attack. After regaining possession, there are two things that the team in possession can do to quickly catch the opposition off-guard: pass or dribble. In order to decide on the best course of action, players need to look for cues and read the positioning and movement of both their own players and the opposition.

Players should pass when:

  • They are being closed down/pressure is being applied.
  • They have players in advantageous positions.
  • They can eliminate all or several defenders with a pass.

Players should dribble when:

  • They have space/no pressure is being applied.
  • They have no players in advantageous positions.
  • Defenders are backing off/more concerned about the potential passing options.

It is also important to note that in attack, players should follow their passes in order to continue to create numerical advantages, particularly in transitional moments when the opposition is likely off-balance. This does not mean that every single player needs to make lung-bursting runs up the field, but that quick, long, and vertical movements and passes of a few key players can be essential in starting the attack quickly and catching the opposition off-balance.

Here is a full session plan on Attacking Transitions!


Attacking Transitions Warm-UpSET-UP

16 players     4 balls     8 bibs  16 cones        44 x 50 area

This activity will get players’ minds and bodies warmed up for the session while simultaneously emphasizing some of the key factors and coaching points of the topic.

The warm-up involves four different squares, with each of them being occupied by four players. There aren’t any teams, but because the rest of the session involves two teams of eight, players can be given bibs right from the off-set.


Attacking Transitions Warm-Up Switch of Play

Players will be on their toes, passing back and forth with their teammates in their square. On the coach’s go, they will switch play either vertically, horizontally or diagonally to an adjacent grid. The player who made the pass will follow their pass and join the square, creating a transitional element to their pass. All grids must switch in the same direction so the coach can use different numbers to differentiate a horizontal (“1!”), vertical (“2!”) and diagonal pass (“3!”).

  • The pass into the square must be a good one and must have the correct weight so that it can be controlled easily by the supporting players. For younger players, consider making the squares much closer together than they are in the diagram.
  • Players waiting for a pass must create supporting angles and be on their toes, ready to control the ball. The player passing the ball must look for those supporting angles and find the open player. This means that not only the player in possession of the ball has to have their head up, but every single player in each square.
  • The player who passes the ball must follow their pass quickly. Depending on the depth that you want to go into with your warm-up, you can tell players to make arced, vertical or varied runs. This will help the player to really focus on their movement off the ball, rather than just jogging to the new square after the pass.



This activity focuses on quick vertical passes to the striker in transitional phases, followed by quick movements by the attacking team to create numerical advantages over the defending team.


Attacking Transitions or Defensive Transitions Activity Set-Up

16 players     1 ball     8 bibs    8 cones     44 x 50 area

Each team will have one designated striker (centre-forward) in the opposing team’s half and two centre backs + a goalkeeper in their own half. The remaining players will be in the middle of the field in a fairly congested area. The team is set up in thirds, with two of the three thirds being occupied by a striker up against two centre backs and a goalkeeper. Depending on numbers this can be adjusted to a 1v1 rather than a 2v1 or smaller goals without a goalkeeper. The middle third will have a 4v4, which can be adjusted to a 3v3 or 3v3 + a neutral depending on numbers. The middle third should be about five steps either side of a halfway line. Blue is attacking from right to left, with yellow attacking from left to right.



In order to encourage quick attacking transitions, the ball will start in the central area. The striker is locked into their area at all times, while the two centre backs can only come out of their area if they win the ball back from the striker. The players in the middle third are locked into their area until a transition occurs via the ball being played quickly into either striker.

This activity can work well when coaching defensive transitions too. However, in order to encourage the attacking transitions, when the ball is played into the striker, the player who passed it plus one other player can join the striker into their attacking third. These players should look to quickly combine with their 3v2 advantage and score a goal.

If the defending team (the two centre-backs and goalkeeper) regain possession, they will look to take advantage of the numerical advantage their team will now have in the middle third. They can do this either by making a run themselves into the middle third  or playing into their team quickly with a pass. After this, they should look to play in their striker and the centre back can even be one of those that join’s the attack. If this happens, one of the middle zone players will need to cover their spot in the defensive third, as they would in a game.

Attacking Transitions Striker Hold Up Play

When possible, the striker/target player should look to hold up the play and wait for their teammates to join, especially when the 2v1 numerical disadvantage is about to become a 3v2 numerical disadvantage. The movement off the ball of the attacking players will be key in allowing the target player to only have to hold up play for a short amount of time. Their first touch should always be away from the defenders, into space and toward where they want to play, for example – toward a right winger that is making a quick movement into the box.

Even if this activity is adjusted to a 1v1 in both attacking thirds, the striker’s ability to wait for others to join will be crucial in breaking the opposition open. This is an example of how sometimes in attacking transitions, the best thing to do is to temporarily slow the play down and wait for others to join, rather than always looking to play fast, forwards and vertical toward the goal. In many cases slowing the play down in an attacking transition can be the right decision, but the movement off the ball of the other attacking players is crucial. Once all the necessary attacking players have transitioned, the attacking team should then attack quickly, with conviction and a willingness to take risks. In other words, after the transition they should look to go forward whenever possible and take advantage of their numerical advantage.

In order to progress this into a more game-realistic situation you can also allow the defending team to transition with one player coming into the zone to create a 3v3. This can have adverse effects on the attacking team’s ability to grasp key concepts so this progression should only occur if the attacking team is finding it too easy to exploit the 3v2 situation and is comprehending all of the other key coaching points.


In both attacking and defensive transitions, movement off the ball is essential. The movement of the players from the middle third into the final third is absolutely crucial and they should look to make the field as big as possible and stretch the opposition defenders away from their goal.

However, the movement off-the ball of the defending team is also important. If the centre backs regain possession, they are now able to kick-start an attacking transition of their own. As a result, the players in the middle third need to be moving away from their markers and should be looking to create space the moment the ball has been won.

Perhaps most important is the movement of the striker, creating space in order to allow the team to create an attacking transition. Even when out of possession, the opposite side striker should be moving away from the defenders so that they are always an option for a quick vertical pass. The striker can start deep and come gradually closer to the play or shift from left to right with the movement of the ball, looking to create a passing lane for the players in the middle of the field.


Conditioned Game Attacking Transition 7v7 + 2

This conditioned game utilizes two neutral players, helping teams to always have a numerical advantage in attack and attacking transition phases.


16 players     1 ball     9 bibs (e.g. 2 pink, 7 blue)    0 cones     44 x 50 area

In this conditioned game two teams of seven will set up in either a 2-3-1 or 2-1-2-1 formation. Two neutrals will also be in place and act as both a pivot (number 6) and playmaker (number 10). The two neutrals should operate in the middle of the pitch and should always be looking to create and exploit space. If for example, the blue centre backs win possession, the closest pink neutral can act as the pivot in starting the attacking transition. The movement of the far pink neutral will also be key as they act as the play-maker and take advantage of space in between the lines.


Normal FIFA rules apply. The only thing that makes this a conditioned game rather than a regular game is the addition of two neutral players and a rule on goals coming from defenders. In order to highlight the importance of the pivot and the playmaker in attacking transitions, these neutrals can operate in the centre of the park, in between the striker and central midfielder. Depending on your team’s style of play they can also play on the wings/outside of the field, to encourage utilizing width in attacking transitions instead.

In order to encourage quick transitions, risk taking and vertical movements, a rule can also be introduced that states a goal scored by a defender will be worth two points.


Attacking Transitions Conditioned Game Movement off the Ball

  • Make the field as big as possible and don’t have too many players close to the ball when in possession. In attacking transitions, players should look to arc their runs away from the ball, rather than towards it. This will quicken the transition, create space and stretch the opposition. Key coaching phrases to encourage this could include: “Get wide!”, “Drift away!” or “Lose your marker!”
  • Defenders must be willing to take risks after regaining possession. If space is available or there’s an opportunity to create a 2v1, dribbling into space is the right decision. If they are in a tight area, space is closed off or passing options are available, then a pass is the right option. Defenders in possession shouldn’t just sit in, but should look for opportunities to get forward and follow the play too. Key coaching phrases to encourage this could include: “Take the space.”, “It’s closed off.” or “Follow the play!”
  • Attacking players cannot ball watch. They need to focus on their movement off the ball and the defenders need to focus on reacting to their movement, looking to kick-start an attacking transition of their own.


2-1-3-1 8v8 Formation Attacking Transitions

This conditioned game again utilizes a pivot and a playmaker for both teams, playing in a 2-1-3-1 formation, to allow the attacking transitions to always be free flowing and effective.


16 players     1 ball     8 bibs    0 cones     44 x 50 area

In this final game, both teams will play in a 2-1-3-1 formation, encouraging both teams to have four potential options in attacking transitions, essentially creating a 4v3 in attack. Normal FIFA rules apply. Because this is a game without restrictions, not much set up is required. However, different numbers can throw a wrench into your session plan. As a result, the following guide should be helpful in deciding what formation to play for both teams based on different numbers…

  • 12 Players: 2-1-2 formation (6v6)
  • 13 Players: 2-1-2 formation + neutral (6v6)
  • 14 Players: 2-1-2-1 formation (7v7)
  • 15 Players: 2-1-2-1 formation + neutral (7v7)
  • 18 Players: 2-1-4-1 formation (9v9)
  • Players should be looking to play forwards with a pass or dribble as soon as possible. Key coaching phrases to encourage this could include: “Take the space!” (dribble), “Play it quick!” (pass), “Away from pressure!” (dribble), “Use your speed!” (dribble), “Get your head up!” (pass) or “Look long!” (pass).
  • Vertical passes and movements can often be best in eliminating defenders from the play and attacking with conviction.
  • Body shape should be towards the net as much as possible. First touch should be into space, away from pressure and if possible, forwards.
  • Out of possession, the attacking quartet should be looking to anticipate potential opportunities for counter attacks and be looking to create space away from their markers.



This session, all about attacking transitions, will be key to the development of your players and their ability to attack with conviction, pace and power. Not only does this session teach important topics like movement off-the ball and playing on the half-turn, it also explicitly teaches players how to effectively take advantage of numerical advantages and play on counter-attacking football. This session will also simultaneously help defenders with their transitions the other way and with only a few small tweaks can easily be converted into a session all about defensive transitions too. Thanks for reading and I can’t wait to see you soon.

Be sure to check out more Coaching articles right here and read all about the attacking transitions in the 3-2-3 formation in – Coaching the 3-2-3. Thanks for reading and see you soon!


8 thoughts on “Attacking Transitions – Full Session Plan and Key Coaching Points

  1. I really like the patterns as outlined and interested in doing advance coaching course on line with your institution.


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