Training The Playmaker


Brian Quinn, an eight-time all-star midfielder in the M.I.S.L., won 8 national indoor championships with the San Diego Sockers from 1983-1991.  After becoming a U.S. citizen in April 1991, Quinn became a regular in the midfield of the U.S. National Team in their preparation for the 1994 World Cup. He finished his four-year U.S. soccer career with 48 caps.  Quinn, also had a distinguished outdoor career in the old NASL, suiting up for three teams: the San Diego Sockers, the Montreal Manic and the Los Angeles Aztecs. Quinn began his outdoor career with Larne of the Irish League in 1978 to 1979, and then spent two seasons with Everton FC (English Premier League) from 1979 to 1981.  In 1995 Brian Quinn started his professional coaching career with the San Diego Sockers for the C.I.S.L. and then became the youngest coach in Major League Soccer history when he joined the San Jose Clash (Earthquakes) in June of 1997.  Brian holds a U.S.S.F. “A” coaching license and was instrumental in developing youth programs for soccer clubs and coaches throughout the country. He is currently Head Coach for the San Diego Sockers and co-host of “Inside Soccer”, the popular weekly radio show broadcast at

Training the Playmaker

Before you start training the playmaker ask yourself – what am I looking for?

1. Personality:

Playmaker has to be confident
Risk taker
Knowledgeable about the game
Decision maker

2. Attributes:

Touch on the ball
Good 1v1
Can shoot, can pass
Can dribble
Gets in the box (or around it)
Wants the ball in difficult areas
One-touch capabilities
Ability to create space

3. Exercises for Training the Playmaker:

Individual – touch, control, passing and shooting
1v1 – Competitive, Soccer tennis, 1v1 Shooting contest
2v2 – Soccer Tennis, Small-sided games
Vision – Picking out runners
Possession type games
Functional Training – Attacking defense
11v11 – Game situations

Activity #1:

Warm-up / Technical Skill Training:

All players move freely in the designated playing area with one ball each as shown in Diagram (a) below. Players dribble the ball to develop a comfort level while in possession.

Diagram A
Diagram A


– Players move while juggling the ball.

Activity #2:

Technical Training – Soccer Tennis

Players are organised in pairs inside a 5 x 10 yard grid as shown in Diagram (b) below. A piece of string is tied across two flags to create a “tennis” net at the midpoint of the grid. Players attempt to get the ball over the net to their opponents side.

Diagram B
Diagram B

Rules are as follows:

Ball is allowed to bounce once on each side.
Two touch maximum for each player.
First team to 21 wins the game.

Activity #3:

Set Up:

Players are organised on half a pitch as shown in Diagram (c) below. Four attacking players begin the sequence approximately 12-yards outside the box. The “playmaker” (A) begins the sequencs 15-yards from the attacking players. A goalkeeper is positioned in goal. A supply of balls is placed next to the coach as shown.

Diagram C
Diagram C


Play begins with a pass from the coach to the “playmaker” (A). The playmaker must pass to a checking player. The receiving player must lay-off the ball for the playmaker. The playmaker must play accurate passes to the attackers feet. After 3-4 passes the playmaker must attempt to “play in a runner” to go to goal for a scoring opportunity. In the above diagram playmaker (A) has received a ball back from attacker (B). Attacker (D) has made a diagonal run forward. The playmaker has played a through-ball for (D) to have a strike on goal.

Coaching Points:

  • Quality of passing from playmaker.
  • Vision – see the options.
  • Timing and angles of through-balls.
  • Diagonal runs from attacking players.
  • Quality of attempts on goal.

Activity #4:

Set Up:

Same playing area as above. One defender (yellow) and two attackers (red) are positioned 12-yards from the 18 yard box as shown below in Diagram (d). The “playmaker” is positioned 15-yards away with a supply of balls. A goalkeeper is positioned in goal.

Diagram D
Diagram D


The coach begins play with a pass to playmaker (A). Playmaker (A) must find the open attacker with a pass to allow an attack on goal. In the above Diagram player (B) is being closely marked. Attacker (C) has checked off at an angle to receive the pass from the playmaker.


  1. Add a 2nd defender – 2v2.
  2. Add a 3rd defender.
  3. Playmaker can join the attack from a deep position after passing the ball = late runner.

Coaching Points:

  • Decision making – find the open player.
  • Look for penetrative passes.
  • Vision.
  • Move the ball quickly – don´t slow the attack.

Activity #5: Possession Game.

Set Up:

A 6v6 + 1 is organised as shown in Diagram (e) below. The “plus” player (playmaker) plays for the team in possession of the ball. A 15 x 10 yard “free” area is designated using cones in the center of the playing area. Inside this “free” area the playmaker CANNOT be tackled.

Diagram E
Diagram E


Both teams compete for possession of the ball and attempt to score by getting over their opponents endline. Both teams are encouraged to utilize the playmaker in developing attacks. Both teams must look to release players in behind the opponents defense. Play is for a designated period of time or for a predetermined number of goals. In the above Diagram the playmaker (A) has received a pass and slotted a through-ball in behind the defender for the red attacking player to run onto.

Coaching Points:

  • Sharp ball movement.
  • Find the playmaker if possible.
  • Supporting angles to receive the ball from teammates.
  • Players must make positive runs forward to get “in behind” the defense.
  • Timing of passes from playmaker.

Activity #6: 6 v 6 + 1 Going to Goal

Set Up:

A 6v6 + 1 is organised on a 40×30 yard pitch as shown. The playing area is divided into 3 areas as shown in Diagram (f) below.

Diagram F
Diagram F


Both teams compete for possession of the ball and attempt to score in their opponents goal. Players are limited to 1-touch in the middle area of the pitch. The remaining two end areas have no touch restriction. Teams must attempt to build attacks through the “Playmaker” (green).

The activity must have lots of shots on goal.

Coaching Points:

  • Quick Ball movement.
  • Playmaker must bring teammates into play as much as possible.
  • Vision – see the options early.
  • Take chances in the attacking third of the pitch – dribble, shoot, pass etc.
  • Playmaker should attempt to develop the tempo for the team in possession.
  • Be dangerous, deceptive, creative!

Activity #7: 11 v 11

An 11v11 is organised on a full pitch. Both teams compete for the ball and attempt to score in their opponents goal.

*All previous coaching points must be highlighted in this final phase – how effective is the playmaker in this game situation?