Rondos are the most popular soccer passing drill in the world for a reason. Simple yet incredibly effective, the beauty of the rondo is how it nurtures cognitive and technical development in a fun and competitive environment.
“It’s all about rondos. Rondo, rondo, rondo. Every single day. It’s the best exercise there is. You learn responsibility and not to lose the ball.” — Xavi Hernandez
But many coaches and many teams are using rondos all wrong, or at least not maximizing their impact. Too often, coaches use rondos as a glorified game of monkey in the middle, with a static circle of players surrounding two flat-footed and half-hearted defenders
That’s not enough, and totally misses the point and potential of these unbalanced, small-sided keep-away games. Check out some suggestions for how to revitalize your practices with new rondo variations.
The Rondo Basics
“Everything that goes on in a match, except shooting, you can do in a rondo. The competitive aspect, fighting to make space, what to do when in possession and what to do when you haven’t got the ball, how to play ‘one touch’ soccer, how to counteract the tight marking and how to win the ball back.” — Johan Cruyff
Rondos are all about meaningful touches. One group of players has a numerical advantage (3v1, 5v2, etc.) in a tight area, and work together to possess the ball against high-intensity opponents. This gives each player dozens of touches in a short span, while also offering an opportunity to improve decision-making, speed of play, footwork, creativity, confidence, and so much more.
The most basic version can be played with just four players. Start with a triangle of cones, placed anywhere from 5-10 yards apart. Three attacking players stay outside the triangle, while one player defends from the inside. If the defender wins the ball, or if the ball leaves the space, they switch with whoever lost the ball.
The key here is movement. The attacking players shouldn’t stay static at a cone — instead, they should be moving laterally between two cones to take charge of one side. This teaches basic, yet vital instincts for constant movement, body positioning and more.
The natural progression is into 4v2 in a 10×10 square, with attacking players again moving between cones, rather than stationary and stagnant. This creates a “moving diamond” with both length and width.
The Rondo Variations
The possibilities in this basic format are endless, with variables introducing exciting challenges and encouraging problem-solving, creative thinking and competition.
You could set a particular number of passes as a goal — if the attacking unit achieves it, the two defenders must repeat a round. You could count penetrating passes (which split the two defenders) for points. You could divide players into two balanced teams in adjacent grids, and introduce transitions to create a game of moving rondo— check out the video below to see that one in action.
You could also add a fifth attacking player into the mix. Rather than use them as an extra “outside” player, however, I suggest playing them as a midfielder inside the square, to possess the ball while competing for space against defenders.
Once players begin to master these initial rondo formats, keep them on their toes by constantly introducing new rules and variables. The possibilities are limitless.
One personal favorite is Barcelona’s famous 9v4 rondo: Six players spread out on the sidelines (one per short side, two per long side) of a 24yd x 12yd grid. These players work with three attacking players (inside the box) to keep possession away from four defenders. If those four win the ball, they play 4v3 possession until the attackers inside the box win the ball back.
Essential Rondo Coaching Points
- Players should keep an open body position, which allows them to receive the ball on the back foot, see the whole field and maximize their passing options. This also means that players should be passing the ball to their teammate’s back foot.
- Movement is everything. Players should be on their toes, and constantly moving laterally to provide the best passing lane for their teammates.
- Players need to be thinking one step ahead and constantly scanning the field
- Communication is key here, for both attackers and defenders. Encourage players to be very specific in their language.
- Rondos are also incredibly valuable for teaching defensive concepts of pressure/cover and moving in tandem with a partner.
- Rondos should never take up the bulk of your practice time. Change the variables so that they flow into your session’s larger theme, like keeping possession.