The Circle Game

I have had a request to share one of the exercises we use in camps settings.  I have never given it a proper name usually referring to it simply as The Circle Game.  This is an intensely demanding game on every level.  With this in mind a proper Introduction is in order.
The genesis of this exercise grew from a need to increase the pace or speed of play. I noticed that many of the players we work with play “one decision soccer”.  That is, the focus is on gaining possession of the ball either by receiving it from a teammate, intercepting a pass or winning what we call a 50/50 ball.  My observation was little thought being given towards what to do with the ball until after possession was secured. I wanted a training game that would force players to plan ahead what they would do with the ball before they received it.

As coaches are want to do, I poached the general idea behind this game from something I saw presented at a coaching clinic.  The premise of the clinic presentation was increasing the speed of play by forcing players out of their comfort zone.  The clinician speeded up the physical aspects of play under the assumption the mental, psychological, technical and tactical facets of play would follow along.

This was accomplished through a simple pattern pass and follow exercise performed at the fastest possible physical speed.  Pass and sprint with barely enough players manning each station of the pattern so there was no time for players to think about much of anything except getting to the next play. Interestingly enough technique seemed to improve with less time to consider the play -  a result of better preparation to play as players were forced into having active quick feet… and quick active minds.



Active, quick feet are vital to success in soccer.  Do not be caught flat footed / standing around.
Active eyes and active minds are the cornerstone to success in soccer. Watching and analyzing the game constantly and consistently is the goal.
Intense physical activity is important, but constant, consistent and efficient effort is essential to success in soccer. 

For the purposes of this training game I might prefer to use the term mental opposed to psychological.  The components of great attitude, intensity and a serious approach to training are important, always.  There are other aspects to mental training that are points of emphasis for this training game.
Reestablishing comfort zones is a key consideration in improving individual and collective pace of play.  The Circle Game uses a restricted playing area, high pressure and competition to challenge individual and collective pace of play. The environment of the game needs to be uncomfortable enough to be challenging yet realistic enough that success is a reasonable expectation. These elements may need adjusted to fit the ages and skill levels of the athletes you are working with. 

While team shape is relatively static in this game there is a strong emphasis placed on positioning and body shape or preparing to play the ball.  The player must utilize active eyes and an active mind to constantly adjust position and positioning in preparing to play the ball. There must be a plan for the next play before the current play even begins.

Most people would place Technical Considerations at the beginning of this list. Because there is not a prescribed specific technique to be utilized in this game I have listed it last. That does not indicate a lack of emphasis on technique. Rather it allows for freedom in selecting the technique a player will use to solve pressure.  Push pass, outside of the foot pass, heel pass, a flick of the ball – it’s all good, especially when it’s successful!

The Circle Game

The original version of this game was played in the penalty area with 2 forwards against 4 backs in a zonal defense.  Four midfielders were stationed on the outside of the penalty area as support players and could interchange with the forwards but play inside always remained 2 v 4 + GK.  The focus was on movement of players and ball to create shots on goal.  Many adaptations and variations later The Circle Game emerged.
Requirements:  Center circle, soccer ball and 12 players divided into two teams.

This is a possession game so points are won by completing a specific number of consecutive passes.
The Simplest Version

This version may be played with as few as 8 players – four active inside the circle and 4 neutral players outside the grid.  This version is excellent basic training for center midfielders.
Play is 2 v2 inside the circle with no touch restrictions. The remaining teammates are spread evenly about the outside of the circle.  Players on the outside of the circle are not actively engage in defending opponents outside of the circle. The active players inside the circle may use teammates on the outside to relieve pressure and maintain possession.

When the ball is passed by an active player to a teammate on the outside of the circle the two players exchange positions. Thus the outside player becomes active and the passer moves outside the circle to assume the role of a support player. The newly active player may either dribble in or be required to make an entry pass before he himself enters the circle. Play should be constant and eventually very fluid.
Coaching points: Communication, Having a plan for playing, Using teammates outside of grid to create numbers up situations (3 v 2) to solve pressure. All in the interests of playing the game at pace.

There are any number of progressions and variations to the basic game. The version of The Circle Game inquired about goes like this:
When an active player passes the ball out to a teammate (1) on the outside, the teammate must call out a name of another teammate (2) outside the grid to whom he intends to pass to next. This must be done before (1’s) first touch on the ball.  Both active teammates exit the grid as (1) and (2) enter the grid and become active.

Coaching points: Forethought of play as a mechanism to increase the speed or pace of play.
The game will become intense and can seem frantic, almost chaotic, but through the madness a distinct change in thought process and patterns of play will emerge. As the players learn to think faster you will notice them acting and playing faster. The speed of play at which they become competent playing at is a satisfying lesson players learn on their own through playing the Circle Game.  Frustration turns to fun as the game slows down for them mentally even as it accelerates in every other way.

Do not expect immediate dramatic results. This is a game that needs to be played frequently for the positive results to emerge, but make no mistake, emerge they will. 

When writing these games out I sometimes forget details so check back for edits. Also, if something is not clear, please use the comment section to seek clarifications.

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