ASK DAN: Help! We are too bunched and can’t exploit space

“Our strong players remain egocentric and the team are often bunched. How do we get them to exploit space?”

At Under 10s, players struggle to recognise that a couple of passes open up the game. Instead of passing to space they simply run there. That reduces the impact of other team mates and often it’s only the quicker or stronger players who get their hands on the ball. Solve this with two long-term fixes


Many players simply don’t pass the ball enough in training to allow them to develop catch-and-pass skills necessary for exploting space. And when they do pass in games, they do it out of panic or last reort rather than for a reason.

It’s no good running up and down the pitch passing. Your players need to put in plenty of passes that matter during training. These passes should be under increasing pressure. Start with static passing races. Then move to a race when at least one of the passes is to a moving player. Finally, at least one pass must be made by a moving player.

Since the players want to win, they seek out better core techniques. Eventually, they will become more confident to pass and then recognise where to stand to receive a pass.

How many passes does each player make in training? If it’s less than 30, then you need to modify your session.


Ask a player where the space is and they will show you. Ask the player to exploit the space and they may be able to pass the ball to space, or spread out in support.

Both laudable questions, yet players will ignore them once the game gets started. That’s because younger players don’t have good tactical awareness.

One way to fast track their understanding is to give them a meaningful risk-reward metric in training. That means they will win the game if they adhere to the rules. In basic terms, keep breaking the rules, keeping losing possession of the ball. No ball, no tries. No tries, no win.

To unbunch the players in a training game, the rule can be as simple as this. You can only run forwards with the ball. If you are running more across than forwards, it’s a turnover. Be tough on this rule. You will find yourself blowing the whistle plenty of times early on.


In the past, I’ve used exercises where the pitch is split up into channels and players can’t move out of those channels. This has pros and cons.


  • Keeps players spaced out.
  • Players start to find solutions to move the ball to those channels.
  • Creates awareness of the width of the pitch.


  • Time consuming to set up.
  • Might find the game stilted as less “aware” players keep transgressing.
  • Doesn’t always deal with the core problems.

I do use channels for some games. For example, in the middle of pitch, if two defenders touch the ball carrier it’s an immediate turnover. On the sides of the pitch (say 10m in from the touchline), a touched ball carrier has three seconds to pass the ball.


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