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Defend with vision

Every player loves to attack and play possession soccer. So when we move into coaching we are more likely to coach more possession / attacking sessions than we do defending topics. Why is it that a youth team seem more focused when they have the ball? Maybe we could all incorporate a few more defensive exercises into our practice sessions. I know am I certainly guilty of spending more time on teaching attacking than defending.


Players win games, not systems. The system you play can certainly help your players develop a strong knowledge of the game but we need to get serious about helping each and every player improve individual tactical skills.


How can we improve defending? Can a defensive system make a defender better? Is it the skill of the players that determines the success of the system? How can a zonal defense, a back four, a sweeper or any other system function if defenders don't have the skills to make them work? Unfortunately, today's young players do not get a chance to develop these important skills , possibly because we tend to coach more attacking practices or when the players do defend it is all man marking drills. The man marking is certainly easier for a young player to understand but we also want to teach them cover and balance (vision). We need them to explore all possibilities beyond man marking so that they are capable of supporting fellow defenders.

I think we should give our players more opportunities to be creative on defense. How many times do you hear, "Get rid of it!"? You never hear that when teams are attacking. We want our defenders to keep the ball once we win it. We want defenders to learn how to win the ball back safely and quickly. They may face a greater risk of making mistakes and letting down their team mates but mistakes are the best way to learn.

How can we teach pressure, cover balance at practice?

Below is a session I have used in the past. It's a great session for young players and old. It paints the picture of pressure, cover and balance.

Area – Set up three 12 x 20 grids. Each grid has a goal at each end. The coach has all the balls. Players are placed at both sides of their goal.

Part 1

1v1 and is played in one grid. (Or two if you have lots of players)

1. The coach serves in a ball to any player. That player plays a 1v1 against the player diagonally opposite.

2. The object of the exercise is for the defender to defend the 1v1 properly while the player with the ball attempts to score on their goal. 

Coaching points:

Put pressure on the ball quickly

Force the play one way (weaker foot)

Take a good defensive stance

Encourage defenders to make the tackle.

Half of the players from each team move to the next grid.

Part 2 2v2 and is played in two grids. Players must stay in their own grid.

1. The coach serves in a ball to any player. That player and their team mate in the opposite grid enter their playing area. Two defenders enter their playing area also.

2. Players can pass to each other to try and move the defenders but they must stay in their own playing area.

3. A goal can be scored on either goal. The object of the exercise is to teach the defender who is not adding pressure, to cover their goal


Part 3 - Now move to the third grid and play 3 v 3. Watch how the players will offer instant cover and balance.

Coaching points:

Force the play one way

Take a good defensive stance

Encourage defenders to make the tackle.


Area: Half a field with two teams 7 v 6 + GK. Three small goals are placed on the halfway line as shown. A defensive zone is marked out as shown. The team in blue is playing a 4-3 with one holding midfield player. The 4 defenders and the holding midfield player stay in the defending zone. The two other midfield players move around the outer area offering defensive cover.

1. Play 7 v 6 in the defenders favor.

2. The coach serves the ball to any yellow player.

3. The defenders move as a unit to close the play down. Pressure, cover and balance.

4. If the defending team wins the ball they attempt to keep possession and score through one of the goals on the halfway line.


Add another yellow player

Remove the defending zone

Coaching points:

Communication from the defending team is so important

Players must have the knowledge to spot the danger.

Leave the ‘non danger’ player, the player who is furthest away from play. You do not have to guard this player tight.

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