Session Plan: The House Game

The Player Development Project advocates game based coaching and a constraints approach. Football is often over-complicated by coaches and it's easy to forget how much can be taught within small-sided games where players have to deal with the three key elements of the game - attacking, defending and transition. 

Academy Coach, Dave Wright has used this session with players from aged 7 through to 17. In this blog post, Dave takes you step by step through this possession vs. progression practice, from the organisation to the different elements that can be coached within the practice.

It’s easy to over-complicate practices. With time, we all evolve as coaches and it’s important to take risks with your session design. This however doesn’t mean the session needs 64 cones, multiple stations and a training manual to run through it. As part of my FA Youth Award assessment I had to submit 10 session plans to my tutor. One crucial piece of feedback I received upon submitting my sessions was that around 30% of my 40 session plan images, I could have used a goal and chose not to. My reasoning was that a lot of my sessions were directional passing/receiving sessions, but having taken the feedback on board I have been focussing on implementing goals as much as possible in my sessions this season. The reason…all players love scoring goals, and it’s realistic to the game! This is obviously basic stuff, but it’s crucial to try and create sessions that are game based as much as possible in order to allow players the chance to make decisions in a game realistic, directional setting. This will also help your ‘ball rolling time’ or in other words, means the coach will talk less and your players will play more. If you have to intervene, keep it punchy, don’t always go in to fix things, use good examples as coaching points and try and coach individuals on the run while the game continues where possible.

The House Game is a simple game on a rectangle pitch with two goals (sound familiar?). Using flat rubber discs, lay a half way line across the pitch. This is the offside line – just as the halfway line would be on a real pitch. It will help your players understand timing of movement and replicates combinations in the final third or breaking over halfway. If you have very young players, this can take a great degree of patience to implement, so don’t be too worried if they ‘cheat the line’ at times. However, as you work with players who are older of age 10+ they will have a better understanding of this and it’s a great chance of working on combination play, timing of runs, types of runs and forward passes.

Most importantly, this is a game based practice where players will be making decisions on when to break forward and when to keep the ball.

Key Constraints

The key condition is that the entire game must be played in one half, so the defending team presses high up the pitch. This creates space in behind for the team in possession to break in to. From there, if yellows win the ball in reds ‘house’, they have to take the ball ‘home’ and build up play from their own half (house) – so your key constraint is designed to get the players focussing on winning the ball high up the pitch, securing it and keeping it to build up play again. Be patient with young players, this concept can be tricky at first, but it will happen so if your session gets a little messy, don’t worry. Secondly, players are not able to dribble over the line, they must combine. This is to coach possession and progression (when to go forward or when to keep the ball) I like to call this ‘from slow to go!’.  This is not necessarily a 1 v 1 specific practice but 1 v 1s will occur when the line is broken and defenders recover and of course in the build up of play. Once a team has broken into the the opponents house, its a simple small sided game.

Age Appropriate

Depending on the age of the players you have, you could also make it position specific. With very young players, this is not something you need to worry about but helping them with some kind of shape might be a good idea. If you have players who play 9 a-side or 11-a-side you could play your strikers up high, wingers/fullbacks wide and central midfielders or defenders in appropriate roles. You will see the players in the diagrams are numbered according to positions – in this case I have an attacking unit vs. a defensive unit (7, 8, 9, 11 vs. 2, 5, 3, 4) but both get to work on all elements of the game. The size of your area could be very tight to focus on weight of pass and playing under high pressure, or bigger if the level and age of your players demands it. I am a fan of using unprotected mini goals for this session but if you have one goalkeeper, put them in a big goal whilst the other team uses a mini goal or if you’re lucky to have two keepers, get them both in goal working on short or long distribution and shot stopping.

The Set Up

Two teams of equal numbers have a half or ‘house’ each. The game must always be played in one house, with the objective of the team in possession to play a pass into the empty opposition house (space in behind) and score. If you have uneven numbers this challenge one group to deal with overloads or to deal with this, you could use a magic man or neutral player. This player plays for the team in possession and might be an individual in your group who needs to work on passing/receiving – they should get lots of repetition here.

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The Start Point

The coach passes the ball in to one team – in this case reds – and yellows have to go into the red house and press to win the ball back. Reds objective is to find a combination of passes or a through ball to break into the now empty yellow half (house). Here you can coach pressing as a group, defensive compactness, tackling and intercepting for the yellows or alternatively possession, movement and support for the reds – but before considering any of that, let them play and understand the practice for themselves. Once the game is underway it can restart naturally from the sidelines or the back, so ensure a good supply of footballs around the area.


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Creating an Opportunity

As you can see in the next image, the reds could play either of the combinations outlined. Reds have stretched the pitch high and wide. Yellows are compact but the movement of the 9 to come short creates an opportunity to set the ball back for red 8 to release his winger into the yellow house. Your players have come up with a third man run without you even saying a thing! The dashed run of the red 7 shows a forward supporting run on the opposite side if 11 breaks into the yellow house. Alternatively, red 8 can shift the ball wide and keep the ball. All of these movements could happen in a game, the illustration is designed to show scenarios, but it’s important the players find these solutions and when they do let them know they have done well!

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Scoring & Recovery

This image below illustrates reds successfully playing their number 11 in behind, red 9 scores and red 7 provides a supporting run whilst red 8 provides balance. The yellows are forced to recover and now it’s their turn to try and play out.

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Transition & Going Home

In the next image, yellows play out from the back and try to play forward. However, the red 8 steps in and intercepts the ball. His first pass is wide to his number 7 to secure possession and the 7 plays into the recovering 11. Reds have successfully taken the ball home and now have to build an attack in their house. The yellows have to react as quickly as possible, get into the red house and press the ball to win it back. This is a coaching moment to work on quick transition from players so that the team on the ball are under pressure. Encourage the yellows to press and win the ball up high up the pitch when the focus on securing it if they are successful.

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Build Up Play

The next image shows the reds having recovered to keep the ball and yellows have got up the pitch to press and defend. Here you can see the recovering 11 has secured the ball while his team mates support. The number 8 has filled in for the 11 – an opportunity to reinforce the positive if your players recognise that a position needs filling. You can also see a possible combination available. Reds can switch play by going through the red 9 who bounces the ball wide and gets released into the space behind by his red 7 teammate, reds are able to break into yellow house again – an angled run for a straight pass.

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Example Combinations

This image illustrates how reds could use their number 9 as a means to set their attack on their way. It also illustrates the possible progression of allowing one defender to stay deep. The reason for this progression would be to allow your defending team a decision, when to defend deep, and also challenge the team on the ball to play passes in behind one line but weighting the pass well enough to beat the deep defender. To keep this realistic, you could allow one red attacker to cheat the line and stay high with the deep defender (as he would in a game) and restrict his team mates to only go into the yellow house if it’s with a forward pass. This image also illustrates an example of a goalkeeper in play if you have one.

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Example Combinations

The first combination is a set and spin. Playing the ball directly into red 9, red 8 then receives it back and red 9 spins out into the space in behind. Timing and type/weight of pass is important here. Secondly, a third man run could be implemented. Red 8 switches the ball to red 11 and the opposite winger makes the third man run in behind. Again, this image merely outlines possible solutions for players to work on. Repeated use of this session will give players a chance to find these types of combinations but be patient.

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Example Combinations

Red 8 plays the ball into red 9 who sets the ball wide. Whilst the ball is travelling, red 8 is making an overlap around red 7 and is released in behind. Secondly, red 8 punches into red 9 who plays square to red 11. Red 11 releases red 8 who has made a deep forward run beyond the red 9. Depending on the age and ability of your players you may choose to coach these combinations or see what happens organically. Perhaps you are not going to coach a 7-year-old on deep forward runs beyond a number 9, but he may be able to work out what a one/two is and how to eliminate players with a pass. This session can be used over and over again and the more players get comfortable with it, the more they will find ways to break down opponents themselves.

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Below is the set up, objectives and organisation of the session.

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Key Factors & Progression

Here you can see key coaching factors in and out of possession, adaptation options and progressions.

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Four Corners

The last slide illustrates how the practice hits all four of the ‘four corner model’

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This practice can be adapted in a number of ways to whatever your players need to work on. It could be a simple pressing/transition practice or the focus could be on combination play and timing. Experiment with it, adapt it and most of all let your players play in order to solve the problems in it. Using game based learning and a constraints approach, your players will benefit and learn to find solutions to the challenges within the game. For a video version of the session with the same slides, click here for our session plan library.


Dave Wright is a Co-Founder of Player Development Project and UEFA A licensed coach with 15 years coaching experience in England, Australia & New Zealand. He currently works as an academy coach for Fulham FC in London.

Image Credits: Player Development Project