Outplay your direct opponent


This blog continues from my previous one on “Developing a technical Hard Drive”

Developing Hard Drive and Out-playing techniques are the foundation to my personal vision on coaching/player development.

I believe in “Developing players that dominate 1v1 situations but think/look for the 2v1”.

So what is “Out-playing”

The term OUTPLAYING is used to describe how a player is able to beat a direct opponent

(1) Alone

(2) In combination

Each player will do this in a unique way that fits their playing style/personality.

My ideas

Before sharing ideas on OUT-PLAYING, it is important that I give clarity on why this is important to young player development.

As coaches, we need to coach the improvement of individuals – in all aspects of the game – so that they arrive as adults who are able to play the game successfully and to their individual highest level.

Our job is to take young players from being “dependent to independent” and able to make their own decisions within the game with as few limitations as possible.

“Understanding the actions required inside the bigger game is an important step. The bigger game is only 11v11 when the players walk out of the tunnel and onto the pitch. Once the game begins, it becomes a combination of 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 or various overload situations that occur due to the unpredictable nature of football”

Looking at the picture below, we can see some of the tactical problems/SSGs that occur regularly within the 11v11 game.

Each of these situations can be used to develop practices that develop young players to successfully outplay their opponents using technique, athleticism and game intelligence (you can term game intelligence as tactical knowledge, decision making, problem solving etc).


The stages to develop

I believe that as players grow in age, that we need to have a clear focus on their technical and tactical development. I like to assess players in the following 5 stages.

  1. Confidence playing 1v1 in and out of possession against different types of opponent
  2. Ability to combine and work with team mates
  3. Ability to complete different roles in the game (comfortable in different positions, comfortable in different areas of the pitch).
  4. Ability to take onboard information (tactical) that helps you within the game
  5. Ability to read the game and adapt to the demands of the game/what is required.

There is no exact science to this method of stages, as the level of competition will increase as you grow in age and often some players will be unable to adapt to the increased level or demands. Therefore, its a constant process of review and re-visiting each stage.

However, what I am clear on is that the ability to dominate 1v1 situations is the most desired.

why? because unfortunately we do not have enough players that dominate these moments in possession and take responsibility to defend these moments when out of possession.

Its no secret that a team full of players that are happy to play in the 1v1 moments are often the most successful and that 1v1 is the most purest form of the game”


(1) Beating your direct opponent – “Alone”

When developing 1v1 experts, we must give the players experience of playing :

Against different types of opponents.

(big, small, fast, slow, strong, weak etc.)

In different 1v1 situations.

(facing, behind, on shoulder, on angle, line restricted)

Different types of 1v1 scenario that occur inside the game. Coaches must think about both the attacking and defending techniques required in each scenario.

The beauty of any team or training group is the different types of players that you will have within that group (different playing personalities and different physical profiles)

An example 

Big, small, medium sized in height, or Fast, slow, average in speed etc

This will be true for the best teams in the world, such as Real Madrid and a local u9 team where i currently live in Glasgow.

For instance, in the Real Madrid team, you can have 1v1 scenarios in training such as

  • Bale vs Modric,
  • Benzema vs Kroos
  • Ramos vs Marcelo.

Each of these players has different qualities and weaknesses. Playing against them on a rotation is a great learning experience for these players on what type of opponents they are comfortable against and which type gives them the most problems. This is again a true statement for any group of players – such as the local u9s team i have mentioned above.


“Not all 1v1s = 50/50 situation”

In possession, how often can we get the ball to our 1v1 experts?

These 1v1 situations are not 50/50 games, they are 70/30 or even 80/20 in our favour. Getting these players on the ball will therefore, increase our chances of dominating the game.

The same rule applies when defending. Stop access to the opponents best player(s) receiving the ball.

Something to consider

Can you place 1v1 experts in the middle of your team?

The game is evolving and more and more we are seeing 1v1 players in the middle of the team and not just in the wide areas (where they can be isolated).


(2) Beating your direct opponent – “In Combination”

The option of using a second player is only added once we have players comfortable in playing 1v1 alone. The second player is used to problem solvechallenge and encourage good decision making.

The importance of the 2nd player

(1) If you are coaching 1v1 in isolation = then you are teaching the technique of dribbling or running with the ball.

(2) By adding a second player = You are now teaching outplaying in a number of ways.

  • Dribbling
  • Running with the ball
  • Passing & running
  • Passing & dummy/fake movements
  • Disguising to pass and moving with the ball alone


“The second player is very important in the process of creating players that are solution based (problem solvers) especially in the early phase of player development”


This is a very important learning stage, both for the player on the ball and the defending player.

Two examples of this are


The defender in a 1v1 situation knows that the attacker is alone and now can focus on a number of defending techniques – such as closing distance, forcing to a certain side etc….. However, with the second player option, the defender has many more problems to solve, this is due to the attacker having more options to combine or use fake/skill to proceed alone. This doesn’t change if the scenario is 2v1 or 2v2, its just the increased options that become available to outplay when a second player is in support.


The big kid v small kid scenario that occurs in youth development due to maturation. A big kid in or out of possession knows that they can use their physicality to dominate a smaller player. This can negatively impact on the development of both players, as the smaller player lacks confidence to confront 1v1 scenarios while the bigger kid doesn’t become solution based or a problem solver due to the fact they can forcefully beat their direct opponent.

The second player creates the element of a real game they will both face  as they grow older and where they need to be able to problem solve. The smaller kid now has many more options in the 1v1 scenario and can use them to problem solve. The bigger kid cannot just rush in and look to use force, or they face the risk of being outplayed with a one-two or fake/skill movement. Therefore, the bigger kid also have to think and become more intelligent.

The different ways to outplay your direct opponent both in and out of possession.


The first step to including the second player

When including the second player. Look closely at your players and observe how they are developing.


“Do they see the 2nd player?”

They don’t need to use them (this is a personal decision within the game) , but they must be able to see them!!


Learning to use 1 or 2 team mates

Relationship work 

Within your training sessions, you can begin to slowly introduce the second player.

In unopposed situations/practices, your players can now begin to understand how to use their team mates to complete simple game actions.

These game actions encourage the link between passing, moving and receiving.

These include: using a one-two, overlap run, underlap run or simply making a new angle to receive

Xavi and Iniesta were the most elite example of players who outplay with the second player
Teaching players the advantages of working together in order to arrive at the desired outcome (be successful)

Opposed SSGs or Game scenarios

The next step is to take this relationship work from unopposed to opposed practices.

This can be via a small sided game or within 2v1 , 3v2, Over or under load scenarios

Practicing the scenarios of 2v1 or 3v2 that occur in the game.

Constantly place your players in these game scenarios and question/provoke them on how and when to use team mates in order to be successful.

Develop SSGs into the 11v11 full game


In all aspects of development, we must encourage the players to see  “The importance of a positive outcome to your good play”

via clever planning of small sided games (the number of players involved, the ways to score, the ways in which you re-start the game) you can create the scenarios that occur within the big game and practice them within “free” play.

This is the skill of coaching — The ability to allow the children to play freely (with odd moments for a coaching point to be made) in a game that maximises playing time and contacts with the ball.

“Encourage players to “impress themselves”

and promote a YOU vs YOURSELF model for player development”

“A journey of discovery and self improvement”


The importance of 1v1 at senior “professional” levels. 

I have been lucky to have split my coaching experience from both youth (from u6 to u16) and in the recent years with 17+ to senior professionals. This has given me a lot of time to reflect while working with different types of players and teams. I am very fortunate to have this time and experience.

In first team football at the highest level. The players who can excel in the 1v1 moments, are the most desired and the best players in your team.

1v1 domination is seen in many forms and each player must find their way to dominate 1v1 situations in a way that suits their playing strengths/personalities.

If i am to term it in the most simple way, then its about two things (1) Bravery (2) Responsibility

Bravery comes from the knowledge that your technique (developed via training) and decision making (game intelligence) allows you to excel in that moment. This might be a midfielder receiving with their back to play and then twisting and turning to face forwards – or a wide player receiving and being direct to go 1v1 with the defender – or a full back playing man to man against the opponents winger and removing them as a threat in the game. These are all examples of players showing bravery.

Responsibility is accepting the challenge and not immediately looking for support. This can be seen in central defenders wanting to mark 1v1 against an opponents centre forward (and not 2v1 as a generation of defenders have grown to require) or a midfielder constantly looking to get on the ball and doing the right things when the team is struggling etc…..

As youth coaches we must create these qualities in our players as they grow, so that they become habits. Especially, if you are developing players to play in a style of football or a team that demands you dominate possession of the ball. This is often the best 3 or 4 teams in all the leagues of the world. Therefore, we should all be striving to develop these types of players.

The big clubs of the world are evolving all the time and as youth coaches we must see these developments at the elite level. Each position on the field is evolving, this can be seen from the technical demands placed on goalkeepers — to the smaller, more athlietc profile of central defenders and full backs. The technical demands in possession of the ball are becoming more and more.

The make up of the best teams (players within them) show that elite players can be developed anywhere in the world and not just in certain nations. However, nations that encourage a game based on physicality and allow the game to be officiated more loosely with be left behind due to playing a game that is separate to that of the rest. The game is evolving with less contacts and more rhythm.

In Europe, we see a unique balance in the English PL that is at the limit of physicality combined with technique (this makes it the most exciting league), while the Spanish La Liga is the purest form of technique combined with tactical intelligence. Holland, Italy, Germany and France have leagues that fall within these perimeters and the elite teams within all these countries combine to show the way for football development.

The game is being coached, officiated and developed to be more technical and more free flowing based on technique, athleticism and game intelligence.  The ability to outplay is crucial to this. 

Thanks for reading





  1. Fantastic in its simplicity Mike. As always, am insightful and thought provoking read. Thanks for all the content and ideas you share.


  2. Thanks Mike, very insightful read. I particularly like how you’ve shown the small games within the big game, I find it provides a nice clear picture for coaching those scenarios and the areas of the pitch used for context to the game. I’m beginning to compile quite a library of resources produced by yourself, some brilliant session ideas. Thank you 👍


  3. “The make up of the best teams (players within them) show that elite players can be developed anywhere in the world and not just in certain nations. However, nations that encourage a game based on physicality and allow the game to be officiated more loosely with be left behind due to playing a game that is separate to that of the rest. The game is evolving with less contacts and more rhythm”

    Hi Mike, love your words in all of the above but the snapshot I’ve taken above is absolutely on the money and captures Scottish Football and Youth Develoment in this country perfectly. Scottish Football is being left behind and my main worry is that top coaches like yourself realise this and decide to take their skills and profession elsewhere and we continue down the black hole. Our game needs some serious changes if we are to develop elite players again. The current season at Rangers reflects on your statement, we have done fantastically well in Europe where there has been a tactical structure, a game-plan and football intelligence is the aim of the game and when returning to the Scottish game it all goes out the window where the philosophy from most clubs is blood, sweat, snotters, physicality and over aggression. This is not just prevalent in our top leagues but carries right down to grassroots into our volunteer coaches who quickly realise to get results then physicality brings that quick fix and proper player development and technique is quickly forgotten. To create and evolve intelligent players and decision makers it seems that the risk to results is too high. The grassroots governance in Scotland need to revolutionise their philosophy, start measuring success by player improvement and not league positions, medals and match results and only then will we see the game in Scotland making progress again.

    Like every nation in the world the game needs volunteers but it has to be the right ones. Ones that put the development of the player above everything else.

    I’m sure I speak for a lot of coaches that the philosophy you have brought to not just Rangers but to Scottish football has been a breath of fresh air. On the flip side of that I can share your frustrations on the way the game is up here and I worry it drives good coaches like yourself elsewhere. Please take confidence that your work in the game here is well received and appreciated. Keep up the brilliant work Mike.

    Thank You


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