Ball Retention Training

What is Ball Retention ? Training, Analysis & More

Possession football is a football playing style that focuses on keeping the ball under your possession as a way to force your playing tactics and philosophy and to neutralize opponent’s chances to score a goal. And ball retention lies in the heart of Possession football.

Johan Cruyff changed the way of thinking about football with his possession football and his “total football” philosophy. Pep Guardiola later in Barcelona developed further these ideas and made significant success with his team that dominated Europe from 2008 to 2012. This sort of football is achieved through ball retention exercises.

What is Ball Retention?

Every football team tries to keep the ball under their possession as much as possible. Managers are aware of the fact that this is the way to increase the chance for them to win and play an attractive, offensive football style.

Ball retention is not only to keep the ball away from the other team but also to move the ball around with the purpose to use empty space up front at the right moment. 

Keeping the ball under your possession will keep the team fresh and energized while trying the opponents’ players at the same time. When the opposing team has been chasing the ball the entire first half all over the field, they are losing a lot of energy and have less power in the second half.

characteristics for ball retention:

Ball possession philosophy has several characteristics:

  • High level of technical preparation
  • Gradual building of attacks
  • The attack starts from back line
  • Entire team’s movement is synchronized
  • Back and front lines moves steadily up front
  • During the attacking moves players do not waste much energy
  • Tire the opponent with continued passing
  • Establishing space superiority
  • Establishing positional superiority
  • If losing the ball, start pressing the opponents right away
  • Trying to take the ball or stop opponent’s attack as soon as possible
  • When the possession of the ball is re-established, new attack starts from back line

This cannot be achieved without designing sessions related to ball retention training and possession football. Players are getting acquainted with possession philosophy during drills and learn techniques and tactics that will allow them to establish dominance on the field this way.

Ball Retention Training Session

This kind of training session is focused on improving players’ technical abilities as well as their passing skills. These are necessary attributes for achieving a high level of possession game.

Keep in mind that there is no one generic rule how a training session must look. It depends of a lot of factors:

  • Player’s age
  • Number of available players
  • Their physical state
  • Conditions on the playing field
  • Available equipment

things to keep in mind:

You should always look for a way to be creative and plan the training drills that best suit your players’ needs. These sessions should be planned and designed in a way that will ensure constant improvement of their ball retention skills.

Also, you should work on upgrading other skills that can increase quality of the possession game. For instance, increasing players’ endurance will make them physically prepared for the game and will ensure that they can press the opponent often and take possession back as soon as possible.

You should start the session with a few simple drills, whose goal is to warm-up players and make them prepared for the more intense part of the training. These drills are mostly about passing and receiving the ball.

Passing and Moving Around the Cones

You need two cones that are 5-10 meters apart. This exercise is designated for two players. Player A moves with the ball around a cone and then passes the ball to player B. Player B receives the ball, dribbles with it around the cone and then returns it to player A. Do this around 10 minutes. This exercise will give them composure and loosen them up before much intensive drills later.

Passing Grid

Set the players in groups of five to seven players. Organize them and assign them numbers. Pass starts from player 1 to player 2, and than in order. First start without passing restrictions, than continue to one-two pass, and in the end with one touch passing game. Time for this drill is around 10 minutes.

After these drills, proceed with more intensive drills. These drills have higher pace and playing tempo, and the focus of them is to improve their movement and coordination.

Play Inside the Box

Set the square in the centre of the court with defined borders. Five to seven players with movement limited to the surface of the marked square, while opponents can move freely, with five to seven players surrounding the square and two to three inside the box with the goal to put the pressure on midfielders.

Your goal is to pass the ball around and keep the possession while defenders inside the box are trying to take the ball. Exercise duration is around 15 minutes.

Four Square Exercise

Marked box is divided into four squares, with one player in each of them. Players can only move inside of their square. Your team must keep the possession of the ball and pass it around, while the opposing team of two to three players can move freely around and try to take the ball. Start with passing without restrictions, then proceed to one-two passing. Do this for around 15 minutes.

These training drills will teach your players how to stay calm and maintain focus when under pressure while keeping the possession at the same time. These drills will improve players’ passing skill and ball control, which are essential for high quality ball retention training and competitive games.

Progression Game

Set up the playing box with the ball in the middle. Two teams of 4 players. 1 player from each grid in the middle grid and others spread into the end grids. Two players in the middle play 1v1 and a player who gets possession passes the ball into the area with his players. Players who have the ball aim to keep possession while players from the opposite team are trying to take the ball back.

Teams that have ball retention can use the player in the middle area. First play with unlimited contact, then with one-two passes to make the drill more difficult. Key benefit of this training session is that by keeping retention of the ball you improve passing skill and awareness of the plating area.

Players will learn making good angles for receipt of the pass from their teammate. Drill duration is approximately 20 minutes.

Targets in the Middle

This is an excellent drill for players to work on moving the ball around, keeping retention and finding open teammates for passes. Set up a grid with two target zones in the middle. Divide players into even teams. Have in mind that this drill works best when there are five and eight players on each team. Both teams designate a player which occupies one of the target zones in the middle of the field.

One team has the possession, while the other tries to recover it. The possession team tries to complete six passes in the row, and then can play a pass to their player in the target zone for a point. The game continues after a point is scored. The target player plays a back pass to their teammates, who then continue to maintain possession. The first team to earn three points wins.

6 vs 4 Team Training

Set up a grid with two full-size goals at each end line. Two teams with a goalkeeper on each goal, one team has six, and the other has four players. Players in a team of six players are numbered. The team of 6 must pass in numerical order. The team of four players is not restricted and does not have to pass in numerical order but however, they want.

When possession is lost by the team of six players and then regained, the numerical order begins with the player that has possession at the moment. This drill will improve players’ communication and movement. The team of four players also trains quick reaction, as they have to play fast to take the other team off balance. Play this session from 15 to 20 minutes.

Ball Retention Philosophy

At the center of this tactical approach is not to have retention on the ball itself, but on the complete play. Main idea is that the team controls the ball with tactical and technical superiority over the other team, with better player positioning, and agility in movement. This will allow them to completely take control over the course of the match and impose their own playing style.

The focus is on the ball control and short passing game. Opposite to direct football, players tend to move the ball around, changing sides and keeping it under command. One of the main aspects of this philosophy is the active role of defending line.

role of the defense:

The back line is involved in keeping the possession and building attacking moves. Revolutionary is the role of the goalkeeper who is now active member of play. He is included in passing game and used to create surplus of players in the back.

patience; a must have:

Besides passing games and movements, players must work on their patience. This becomes a key attribute in ball retention training and play and it is regularly practiced at sessions. Players must remain focused and calm, keep possession of the ball and wait for their opportunity.


Teams have done wonders by opting the ball retention way of playing football. Also, possession-based football is a treat to watch, as its creative and more engaging. We talked about the way you can learn this style of play, and how important ball retention is in football.

Make sure you apply this knowledge on the field, and don’ t forget to share the results with us! There’s always more to read for you, head over to our soccer section for more. See you there!


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