Five Principles of Good Defending

Most great teams are built from the back. A stronghold from which you will break your oppositions attack and set up your counter. Strength and depth are required in defense. Weakness in this key area will leak goals and provide a steady platform on which you can build.

But, defending is not limited to the defenders! When ever your team loses possession, they lose control of the game and should therefore be looking to win back the ball. I have a saying that I use with our players, "if we don't have the ball we can't control the game." As I said defending should start the moment your team loses possession.

Junior Soccer Coach - Effective Defending
Junior Soccer Coach - Effective Defending

A well organised and cohesive team should follow the following 5 steps:

  • Principle 1 - Immediately give chase and apply pressure
  • Principle 2 - Get back
  • Principle 3 - Mark a man
  • Principle 4 - Zonal defending
  • Principle 5 - Attack man and ball Lets look at these five steps in further depth.

    Principle 1 - Immediately give chase and apply pressure

    How often do you see an attacking player lose the ball in a tackle and then give up? Happen in your team? Probably, that's because its only human nature when the ball is lost, a player will want to take a break. But when this happens, and they rely on others they are out of the game, and are no longer useful to the team. Players should be coached to immediately give chase when they have lost out. By applying pressure to the opponent on the ball, your players are trying to force an error out of the opponents. As a player, there is nothing worse than having no time on the ball, no space to run into or having team mates that are tightly marked. In this instance, if your players applies pressure, he will make the opponent nervous, force an error and even if they don't win the ball back chances are that some else in your team will.

    Principle 2 - Get back

    Once your team has lost the ball, lets say it in the last third of the pitch, your strikers should become your first line of defense. They engage in Step 1 and apply pressure, if successful your midfield will pick up any mis-placed passes. However, if your strikers are unsuccesful in forcing an error the midfield players should then be trying to delay an attack. You may have a particular set up in midfield, by wanting your opponents to attack down the flanks as your defenders are arially superior, you may have your midfield strutured to force the attack through the centre where you overload the middle and crowd the opposition out. Whatever is your tactic, your midfield should be slowing the attack down, so that your defenders and goal keeper have enough time to get properly organised.

    Principle 3 - Mark a man

    Players should be developed to understand that when they are defending, they should keep themselves between the attacking opponent and their goal. When marking players, the general rule is the closer a ball comes to the man your player is marking the tighter they should be on them. Conversely, the further the ball is away the need to be close is lesser. A defender should be controlling his man and the ball. Any passes made to the attacking opponent should be forced to be infront of your defender and not into the space behind him. If a ball is played behind the defender for the attacker to run on to, your defender should have positioned themself to see this and be able to turn quickly and beat the attacker to the ball. If the defender is beaten to the ball, they are at least giving chase, applying pressure and should be able to get a tackle in as soon as the attacker is trying to get the ball under his control.

    Principle 4 - Zonal Defending

    When trying to foil an attack, you should coach your players to man to man mark on the field where the ball is closest. Further away, zones should be covered which give maximum strength and depth to your defense.

    Principle 5 - Attack man and ball

    Robust, solid, well timed tackles will not only win the ball but will enable your defenders to quickly develop a counter attack. If your defenders are well organised and good use is made of the zones, tackles are not necessarily required as they can read the build up of play and intercept passes. Coach players not to go diving in, their decision making should be developed to know when to execute a tackle, when to stand a man up and when to use ghost tackles to force the attacker to reveal their intentions and wrong foot them.  

  • Printer-Friendly Format