I’ve played as a defender in soccer for most of my life and let me tell you, shutting down another team’s attack is a huge rush. While defenders might not get as much recognition as forwards, they’re the backbone of any great team. Having a solid defense will make your life as a coach much easier.
So how do you coach defense in soccer?
When coaching defense in soccer, highlight the need to keep the ball out of your team’s penalty area. Defenders don’t necessarily need to keep possession of the ball but doing so definitely helps. The ultimate goal of the defense should minimize the number of scoring opportunities for the other team.
The ultimate goal of any defender is to protect their own net and make the game as boring as possible for their goalie. Not letting the opposing team into your team’s penalty area is the defender’s goal, but it’s easier said than done. To learn how defenders can keep the opposition at bay, we invite you to keep reading.
Delaying Goal Scorers
Teaching your defenders how to delay attacks is crucial. In these situations, it’s all about slowing down the opposition in their route to your goal.
Defenders don’t necessarily need to win the ball to be successful at delaying the other team, but they need to buy time for the rest of their team to catch up.
So how are defenders supposed to delay attacks? Well, the first thing they should do is stand up the player with the ball. Once they have the opposition in their sights, they need to get in their way without easily being dribbled around.
It’s important that your defenders don’t stab at the ball with their toe.
Since the defender is trying to delay the attack, there’s a good chance the other team has a one-on-one or is at least pressing. By stabbing and missing the ball in these instances, the defender is giving up two-on-ones or breakaways for the other team.
Your defenders should work on staying between the attacking player with the ball and their own goal (goalside).
Steering Attackers to the Sidelines
One of the most important skills for any defender is the ability to steer the opposition to the sidelines. Doing this keeps players out of the center of the field where scoring opportunities are more plentiful.
By showing attackers the sidelines, defenders are forcing players into positions where it’s very hard to score. These attackers will likely have to cross the ball into the box or try to make a move to the center of the field to pose any real threat.
Guiding attackers to the sidelines isn’t overly difficult but it may take some practice. Defenders should focus on opening their bodies up to the side of the field.
This gives the attackers a lane they can take to the sidelines. Attackers are much more likely to take the path of least resistance to the sideline, than taking a difficult route through the center of the field.
This is a great way to delay the other team and allow your other defenders to get into position for any passes or crosses. Defenders can also steer the opposition into the center of the field, but this isn’t the best idea unless you want to prevent a pass to a player making a run on the sidelines.
Tackling the Soccer Ball
Tackling in soccer is all about dislodging the ball. Keeping possession shouldn’t be your defender’s first goal but it’s an added bonus. When instructing your players on how to tackle, let them know that they need to cover the distance between themselves and the attacker quickly.
Your defenders should start to pull up once they get up to the opposing player. Once they’re there, there’s a couple of options available to them. They can stand up the attacking player and wait for them to make a mistake or they can commit to a tackle.
Committing to a tackle means working through the ball and showing no hesitation.
As long as your players make contact with the ball first, referees shouldn’t blow their whistle for any fouls. You should also let your players know to stay low to the ground and to stay on their toes.
This will afford them better balance and the ability to move quicker from side-to-side. With that being said, there are 3 main types of tackles: the block tackle, poke tackle and slide tackle.
Block Tackles in Soccer
The goal of the block tackle is to utilize the body to impede shots, passes and crosses. Defenders perform this type of tackle by getting in the way of the path of the ball right before the attacking team strikes it. Your defenders shouldn’t seek position through the use of block tackles.
Poke Tackles in Soccer
As the name implies, poke tackles are all about poking the ball and possession away from the other team. Poke tackles are best performed by staying on your toes and are great to use when an attacker tries to make a move by you.
The goal of the tackle is to simply dislodge the ball and prevent any momentum from forming for the other team.
Slide Tackles in Soccer
Of the three different types of tackles, slide tackles are definitely the flashiest. They’re also the most dangerous and can backfire if poorly performed. If you’re coaching younger kids, you should encourage them to stay on their feet.
This will prevent younger players from getting injured by performing the tackle or by being on the receiving end of a slide tackle. Slide tackles are more of a last resort and should be used only if you’re very confident you’ll make contact with the ball.
A poor slide tackle can leave your goal open to the opposing team and can result in penalty kicks if they aren’t performed correctly.
Being Aggressive in Soccer
The best defenders, young and old, are very aggressive. This doesn’t mean your backline should be reckless though. Being aggressive means they shouldn’t be afraid to get in front of shots and go after 50/50 balls.
They should also minimize the amount of space the opposing team takes by quickly closing the distance to the ball. Sprinting up to the ball forces the opposition into high-pressure situations where they’re more prone to make mistakes and turn the ball over.
Defensive Positioning in Soccer
Growing up, my game centered around positioning. I was never the fastest kid and I always played defense. This meant that I had to play smart and make sure attacking players weren’t able to get by me.
Let your defenders know that they don’t need to be the fastest players on the field, but they do have to be some of the smartest players.
Good positioning means staying goalside of attackers and being able to take advantage of bad touches. Defenders can also work with one another to try and force the other team offsides.
It may be tricky for younger players to understand this concept and probably isn’t worth bringing up to the youngest age groups. The youngest divisions also may not have an offsides rule in place.
Intercepting Passes in Soccer
Great defenders are able to anticipate the moves of the opposition. If an attacking player is continuously eyeing their teammate or there’s a player about to make a run, there’s a decent chance the ball will get passed to them.
A good defender can read the development of plays like this and successfully intercept passes.
Intercepting passed balls not only gives your team possession, but it can also open up a counterattack. This means your team will gain momentum and will likely be up a man as they work their way to the opposing goal.
Defenders usually stay in their own halves but intercepting passes is a great way to get an attack started.
You should caution your defenders, however, not to be over-zealous with trying to intercept balls. If they mess up it’s likely the other team is going to have more players going at your goal than there is defending or they might earn a breakaway against your goalie.
Defenders need to be confident and at the same time respectful of the abilities of the opposing team when intercepting passes.
Staying On Your Feet
Encourage your younger defenders to stay on their feet. As mentioned above, a poorly timed slide tackle can leave your team open to a world of hurt.
You should also make sure your defenders understand that they shouldn’t leave the ground unless they’re heading the ball out of the air.
This means no jumping in the air in anticipation of a cross or a shot. Sometimes a defender who leaves their feet will be rewarded, but most of the time the attacker will easily get by them.
Lastly, encourage your players to get up right away if they fall down and aren’t hurt. If they hustle they might be able to recover and impact the play. We also don’t need to raise a new generation of floppers.
Getting Beat in Soccer
Every good defender has been beaten by attackers more times than they care to admit. It’s important your defenders know how to properly respond when this happens.
They shouldn’t get down on themselves and they should try to re-inject themselves into the play after the attacker gets by them.
Let your defenders know that they should run back to the goal once they are beaten. They shouldn’t chase the player with the ball.
Taking an angle back to the goal and attempting to cut off the attacker is the best way to respond. Chasing an attacker will only drain their energy and likely produce no results.
Keeping Your Emotions in Order
The best defenders keep their heads in the game the entirety of a match. They don’t lose their focus when their team concedes a goal and they don’t get cocky when their team scores a goal.
Over their soccer careers, your players are going to find themselves in plenty of adverse situations. It’s important that they don’t let it affect their play.
It’s also important that defenders don’t get overly frustrated when their partners on defense give up a goal. Sure they might be get bummed, but they shouldn’t get mad at their defensive partners.
There will be plenty of instances where the situation is flipped and the player who was previously mad makes a mistake that leads to a goal.
Defenders who don’t keep their emotions in check are also more likely to commit pointless fouls. Players shouldn’t allow a bad call from the referee or a dislike for another player to dictate how they play.
Your players are going to experience both of these things as long as they play. Help them get over their emotions on the field early on in their career.
Clearing the Ball in Soccer
Possession is the name of the game in soccer but there are certain situations when clearing the ball is necessary. One of these situations is in your team’s half of the field, specifically the penalty area.
Players should do their best to clear the ball in this area. There’s no reason for your players to try and get cute and obtain possession of the ball. This can easily backfire and lead to goals.
Let your players know that clearing the ball up the sidelines is generally safer than into the center of the field and that both these options are better than clearing it over your own goal line.
There’s no reason to give up a free corner-kick! If things are exceedingly hectic, clearing the ball over the goal line may be the only option.
The whole idea of clearing the ball is to get your team out of immediate danger. Your team may win or lose the ball downfield and that’s perfectly okay.
It’s better to play it safe and clear the ball than allow the other team to roam around in your penalty area.
Passing with Intent
Your defenders should pass the ball with a purpose. They should make sure they make accurate passes and that the ball gets to their intended target in plenty of time. A weak cross or a pass without any authority offers your opponents a prime chance to intercept the ball.
Tell your defenders that if they don’t think they can make a pass with 100% certainty, they should quickly reevaluate their options. You want your defenders to be sure of their passes because one bad pass can lead to a prime scoring opportunity for the other team.
Passing the ball back to the goalie is always an option if there aren’t any open players around you. Goalies serve as a great safety net for dumping off a ball and can help stretch the field in ways other players can’t.
Communication in Soccer
Emphasize to your defenders the importance of talking to one another. If one of your defenders has space upfield and decides to take it, the other players on defense need to know to cover for that defender.
The covering defenders should also be ready for a pass back from the original defender if his momentum comes to a halt. Defenders should also not be afraid to support attacks by being outlets for passes.
Defenders need to let each other know if anyone is pressuring them and who would be a good option for a pass. It’s important your players talk and share what they see because each player will have a different view of the field.
Make sure your defenders communicate and make sure they know their defensive assignments.
Your players on defense should also communicate with the goalie. If they plan on passing back to the goalie, they should let him know a pass is coming or be certain he’s paying attention.
Defenders should also take and process information from the goalie. The goalie has a view of the entire field and the information he can pass on is invaluable.
Taking Space in Soccer
If a defender on your team has space to take, encourage them to take it. It’s amazing how many options appear by going upfield as little as 10 yards. So next time you see one of your defenders have plenty of space and not take it, let him know that it’s okay to go for it.
His partners on defensive will cover for him and he can rest assure he’s making the right play.