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A canon for soccer defense.

Soccer coaches looking for a logical approach to the teaching of defensive techniques would do well to approach the teaching/coaching process as follows:

1. Organizing the defense.

2. Initiating the build-up.

3. Attacking the goal.

One follows the other in this sequential developmental program, beginning with the organization of defense.


The defending team should push up to keep all of the opponents in their half. The three steps involved in defending a goal are:

Defending far from the goal:

Whenever the opposing team gains possession of the ball, the defending team should push up to keep all of the opponents in their half of the field.

This means that the back line of defenders must move to the midfield line to hold the whole opposing team onside in their half of the field.


The keeper moves out of the penalty area and plays as a sweeper.

Training and discipline are needed to do this. The defenders have to resist the temptation to follow a player or the ball over the midfield line.

Every effort must be made to keep the opponents bottled up in their half of the field. The keeper must pick up any long passes over the midfield line.

An excellent way to do this is by having the defenders go "hunting for the ball." The front line begins by putting pressure on the individual opponent with the ball--make every effort to win back the ball as quickly as possible. A counter-attack can then lead to a quick shot on goal. The player with the ball will be forced to dribble with his head down forcing a turnover.

Since, the player with the ball will also be forced to move in front of his own goal, a turnover can be deadly. A quick move can produce a shot on goal.

Some teams will try to force the player with the ball to move to the touchline. This will, actually, carry the ball out of the danger area, so we want the opposite to be done--force the ball into the middle of the goal area.

Once the defenders become familiar with "hunting for the ball," a second element can be added to place more pressure on opponents. This tactic calls for holding the ball and the opposing team in one quarter of the field.

With most defenders and opponents in one quadrant, the normal passing lanes are cut off, and the player with the ball retains most passing of his options. Again, a turnover of the ball will produce a productive counter-attack near the goal. (See Diag. 2.)


Review: Far from the defending goal, we want the players to "hunt for the ball" and to try to restrict play to one quadrant of the field. This has proved to be very effective defensive play.

Defending closer to the goal:

Once the ball and attackers have crossed the midfield line, the tactics change. The new task is to mark the opponents and restrict penetration with the ball.

This assumes that the ball and opponents are between the top of the box (the penalty area) and the mid-field line.

The defenders must now learn three basically new tasks:

The defender nearest to the player with the ball tightly marks the goal side of the ball and inside of a line from the ball to the near goal post.

The best marking technique is to just stay with the player with the ball. The defender should never leap at the ball or chase it if passed.

The marking should force the player with the ball to look down and thus limit his vision of the field. The defender should also "encourage" the player with the ball to move to the flank, away from the goal. (That is why the marking is on the "inside.") This is the marking defender.

The next nearest defender assumes a position behind his marking teammate and is again inside the line from goalpost to the ball.

This defender is ready to mark the player with the ball whenever he gets behind the primary marking defender. He is also in a position to cut off penetrating passes or a shot on goal. Finally, he can keep an eye on a nearby attacker and be prepared to move accordingly. This is the "covering" defender.

A third defender gives the defense "balance." He is prepared to run behind the covering defender, as well as intercept a square pass or crossed ball. (See Diag. 3.)


As the ball is moved around, the three defenders shift positions rapidly. This is hard work and needs practice.

The defenders must also practice "passing off" an attacker if he runs from one side of the field to the other. The vertical dotted line is added to the illustration to suggest a midpoint where attackers can be "passed off" to a new defender. There is still a need to mark, cover, and have balance in all defensive situations.

If need be, midfield players can drop back to help with the defensive duties. This should be done from the middle of the field, not from the side opposite the ball.

Defending in front of the goal:

The final defensive task occurs whenever the ball has arrived inside the penalty area and is at or near the keeper's box.

Razor-sharp man-to-man marking is needed and each defender must stay with his man. There is no switching or passing off. The ball cannot be followed; only the opponent is followed. Opponents should be prevented from turning, passing or shooting. Defenders cannot rely on help from other places such as midfield.

At this point, a game can be played. It will require two coaches, one for the attackers and the other for the defenders. Each team should be given an equal chance to score.

* The attackers get two points if they score a goal and one point for a corner kick.

* The defenders can attack small goals (about eight feet) set up at midfield on each flank. The defenders get one point for a pass through the goal or two points if the ball is carried (dribbled) through the goal.

This simulates the beginning of the attack on goal--the final step in the tactical sequence.

The game is played by having unmarked wing players dribble the ball in an outside channel on each flank, then cross the ball to the approaching attackers.

The coach of the attackers can arrange ways in which the attackers move to the goal. The defenders mark and defend the goal. (See Diag. 4.)


The game concludes the third and final step in defending the goal. By this time, the defenders should be well-versed in the art of defending.

They should be familiar with pressuring the ball in front of the opponent's goal and hunting for the ball.

They should be familiar with marking, covering, and creating defensive balance.

They should be able to pass off an opponent to a teammate.

They should be familiar with razor-sharp, tight marking near the goal.

They should be confident in defending.

By Alan Maher, Technical Advisor, Huntington (NY) High School
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Title Annotation:SOCCER
Author:Maher, Alan
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2006
Previous Article:Transition drill.
Next Article:Girls high school player of the year.

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