Maintaining adequate field spacing is one of the most important strategic concepts in soccer, but it's also very difficult for younger players to master. Enthusiastic youth players have the unhelpful tendency to clump around the ball, forming counterproductive knots. Fortunately, there are several easy drills to encourage your players to maintain adequate spacing on the soccer field.
One of the simplest drills to improve spacing is playing keep-away. Position four or five players in a circle, with one player in the middle. The middle player's job is to steal the ball, while players on the perimeter try to pass the ball away from the defense. The drill is an excellent introduction to the concept of spacing because perimeter players quickly realize that staying spread out makes the defender's job much harder. To increase the difficulty of the drill, add a second and third defender to the circle.
4-on-4 Zone Game
Create a small practice field measuring about 40x30 meters. Divide the field vertically into thirds, creating three lanes from one end of the field to another. Place two players from each team in the center lane and one player from each team in the side lanes. Then, allow players to scrimmage, but require players to stay in their assigned lanes. This helps wing players develop the habit of staying outside while encouraging central players to find opportunities for runs toward the goal.
Pass and Fill
This drill helps more advanced players understand the need to shift positions in response to their teammates motions. Place three offensive players at the half line with one occupying the center with the ball and the other two on either wing. A third offensive player, the striker should stand halfway between the half line and the goal. The drill begins when the center player advances the ball to the striker. Then, the center player should cut on a diagonal towards either the left or right corner of the field. If the center player cuts left, the left wing should move to the center to fill space and provide an outlet pass while the right wing advances along the right edge of the field. The striker then distributes the ball toward the left or right corner and runs to the goal to finish on a cross. If the center player runs to the right corner, the wings complete the same action in reverse.
This drill helps central players learn to crate space to receive passes and teaches wing players to move to open space to receive passes from the middle. Place three offensive players about halfway between the goal and the half line, one in the middle and one on each wing. Then, add two defenders to guard the player in the middle. The central player's goal is to evade the two defenders long enough to receive a pass and then make a clean pass to one of the two wings. The wings' job is to move around into positions allowing the double-teamed middle player to make a clean pass.
Encourage the central player to use pace and direction changes to get open. Coach the wing players to watch how the defense attacks the ball and then find an open angle to receive the pass. Don't allow the wings to come within five to 10 yards of the ball-handler.