How to Defend in Soccer
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Every Position Defends in a Soccer Game
Every position should defend in a soccer game, yet many coaches do not teach players how to defend correctly.
Coaches often say things like “don’t stab” or “don’t dive in” or “get goal side” during games but these phrases are hardly a substitute for teaching players to defend. It’s not surprising that almost all beginners and some advanced players don’t know how to defend properly.
It’s not surprising that almost all beginners and some advanced players don’t know how to defend in soccer properly.
This guide will teach you how to approach an attacker, the defensive stance, how to tackle properly, and tips on how to defend effectively.
The Defending Approach
1. Move quickly to the player with the ball
- Sprint towards the player with the ball.
- The faster you put pressure on the attacker, the faster he will have to make a decision.
- High pressure often forces offensive mistakes. Offensive players have less time to look up and find a good pass and won’t be able to dribble as far up the field.
2. Slow Down Quickly
- Novice defenders apply high pressure but are easy to beat. They rush to the ball so its easy for good players to cut away from them.
- Make yourself harder to beat by slowing down a few feet from the player with the ball. Act like you’re sprinting hard towards a player but quickly slow you approach by taking small steps and decreasing your speed.
- Determining the ideal time to slow down takes practice. When learning this skill you will slow down too close to the player with the ball (which allows the offensive player to beat you easily) or too far away (which doesn’t put adequate pressure on the attacker). As you practice defending at the correct distance will become a habit that you will do without thinking.
3. Defend at an angle
- You want to make dribbling as hard as possible.
- When you defend at a slight angle (with your body turned slightly to the side) you make it harder for the attacking player to move in both directions.
- You can force him in the direction you want him to go and/or make him use his weak foot.
- For example, you defend at a right angle, forcing the attacker to your left. The sideline is on your left so now the attacker doesn’t have much space to work with if he chooses to dribble.
- Another example is you know that you have teammates nearby to your left. So you defend at a right angle, forcing the attacker to your left. Another teammate pressures the attacker and you make the tackle.
The Defensive Stance
1. Lower your center of gravity
- Bend your knees lower your butt slightly. When you stay in this position you will move easier and have good balance.
2. Put your arms out
- Put your arms out naturally to improve your balance.
- Use your arms to brush the attacker’s arms away when they try to dribble past you.
Tackling in Soccer
Getting the defensive approach and stance right is essential. Master both and you won’t need to tackle as often since the attacker will pass the ball quickly. As a result, you won’t get beat as often.
Tackling isn’t an exact science. How and when you tackle depends on the situation.
In general, tackle the attacker when he makes a mistake. Tackle quickly when he makes a bad touch or touches the ball too closely to you.
When you play against good dribblers you have to tackle at the slightest mistake or hesitation. Always tackle when the attacker is off-balance. Otherwise, continue delaying the player. You will get beat most of the time when you tackle good players recklessly.
When a player turns his back to you always apply intense pressure. Defend both sides of the player. If you put too much pressure on one side, he can turn to the other side and beat you.
Tackling a player is similar to passing a soccer ball. Move your leg to the side to build momentum then move it forward in a passing motion.
Do not use your toe to poke the ball unless you’re sure you’ll win the tackle. Poking the ball is quicker than using proper tackling technique, but you will get beat badly if the attacker touches the ball away from you. Recovering from a missed toe tackle takes a long time and attackers can dodge the tackle easily. For these reasons, use the technique explained in the previous paragraph most of the time.
If you miss a tackle, immediately turn your body and sprint towards the attacker. If you recover quickly you have a good chance at catching up and tackling the attacker. If you defend well and recover quickly when beaten, attackers will be hesitant to dribble past you.
Fake a tackle occasionally. Act like you will tackle then pull back halfway through the tackle. Fake tackles put the attacker off balance and force mistakes.
When you decide to tackle, commit fully. Do not go in with any hesitation as this gives the attacker more time to cut the ball away. Tackle hard.
If the attacker moves to the side or turns, use your body to defend ruthlessly. Good defenders create fear in attackers by putting unrelenting pressure on them the second they make a move.
Tackling takes timing and balance. Learning to tackle effectively takes a lot of practice. You will learn what works best in different situations as you become more experienced.
Off the Ball Defending
Off the ball defending comes down to good things:
- Staying in a good position
- Staying with your man
Where you should position yourself depends on the soccer position you’re playing and the situation. In general, you’re in a good defensive position when you are in a valuable space on the field.
For instance, you’re in a good position when playing wingback if you have the sideline covered. Stay close enough to the sideline that you can sprint towards a through ball played down the sideline but far enough away from the sideline so that you can cover your man if he makes an inside run.
This sounds confusing, but it quickly becomes second nature when you play games at your preferred position.
Staying with your man is simple but isn’t easy. You have your man covered if you are close enough to intercept a pass or apply intense pressure when he receives a pass, and are far enough away to stick with him when he makes a run forward. Always stay closer to your goal than your man. This is called staying goalside (read our article How to Communicate Effectively in Soccer to learn soccer terms).
Keep an eye on your man as much as possible (touch him with your arm if he’s close to you). You only need to let your guard down for a second to get beat.
Soccer Defending Tips
1. Use the Offside Trap
- The offside trap can be extremely effective against teams that play through balls to a fast forward.
- To perform an offside trap, one player (usually the center back) signals and every defender moves forward. Signal for an offside trap a few seconds before the ball is passed.
- Even if you don’t use an offside trap regularly, you should still be aware of offside. One defensive player should never be far behind other teammates. Hold a strong line to prevent forwards and wingers from getting behind the line easily while avoiding getting called for offsides.
2. Call for a double team
- A double team is effective when used correctly.
- Call for a double team when the attacker is in a tight spot, like near the sideline, or doesn’t have good support (for instance, a single forward going down the middle without supporting runs).
3. Tell teammates who to mark
- If you notice an unmarked opposing player, immediately tell a teammate to mark him.
- Sometimes teammates get preoccupied with the ball and leave players open. Prevent an easy goal by keeping on the lookout for open players and informing your teammates.
4. Delay effectively
- Defenders often focus too much on tackling. Delaying an attacker effectively can be just as effective.
- When you delay an attacker, your teammates have time to get back and mark their man. As a result, the attacker usually has little options and will make a bad pass.
5. Learn the defensive header
- Head the ball far and wide when you are in the defensive half. Read our article, How to Head a Soccer Ball to learn more.
6. Don’t be afraid to foul
- Never tackle with the intent to injure. Having said that, do not be afraid to get called for a foul.
- When you worry about fouling, you defend less aggressive.
- Fouls will happen. They often don’t cause harm to your team. You will be much more effective playing aggressive and getting called for fouls occasionally than playing timid and avoiding fouls.
7. Keep your anger and frustration under control
- I’m still amazed at how often advanced players commit pointless fouls (often resulting in yellow and red cards) simply because they lose control of their emotions.
- Soccer can be frustrating. You will get angry. You can let your anger and frustration get the better of you and hurt your team, or you can use it as motivation to play better.
- Tell yourself “I will not let my anger control me. I will use it as motivation to succeed.”
- Control your anger and frustration and you will defend better.
More Resources for Learning How To Defend in Soccer:
At Home Soccer Defense Drills
Soccer defense is an integral part of the game, and practicing soccer defense drills is crucial to a player’s performance on the field. These drills help players improve their footwork, agility, speed, and positioning while defending the ball. Practicing soccer defense drills at home by yourself can help players develop their individual skills and improve their overall performance on the field.
Here are some examples of soccer defense drills that you can do at home by yourself:
Cone Weaving: This drill involves setting up a series of cones in a zigzag pattern and weaving through them as quickly as possible. This drill improves a player’s footwork, agility, and speed, which are crucial skills for effective defending.
Shadow Dribbling: This drill involves dribbling the ball around while pretending to defend an imaginary opponent. This drill improves a player’s footwork, balance, and coordination while defending.
Tackling Practice: This drill involves practicing different types of tackles, including slide tackles and standing tackles. This drill helps players improve their tackling technique and timing, which are essential skills for effective defending.
Reaction Drills: This drill involves reacting to different cues or stimuli, such as a coach’s whistle or a partner’s movements. Reaction drills can help players improve their speed, agility, and decision-making skills while defending.
Jockeying Practice: This drill involves practicing the technique of jockeying, which is the art of positioning your body and using your feet to control the movement of the attacking player. This drill improves a player’s positioning, balance, and coordination while defending.
Wall Pass: This drill involves practicing passing the ball off the wall while practicing defending techniques such as intercepting, blocking, and clearing the ball. This drill helps players improve their defending skills while also working on their ball control and passing accuracy.
The Importance of Practicing Soccer Defense Drills at Home
Practicing soccer defense drills at home by yourself is essential for players of all levels, from beginners to professionals. Here are some of the benefits of practicing soccer defense drills at home:
Individualized Training: Practicing soccer defense drills by yourself at home allows players to focus on their individual needs and goals. Players can choose the drills that target their weaknesses or the skills they want to improve the most.
Consistency: Practicing soccer defense drills at home allows players to be consistent with their training. Players can practice every day or as often as they want, without depending on team practices or games.
Mastery: Practicing soccer defense drills at home allows players to master the fundamental skills of defending, including footwork, positioning, tackling, and jockeying. Mastering these skills will help players become better overall defenders.
Confidence: Practicing soccer defense drills at home can help players build confidence in their defensive abilities. The more they practice, the more confident they become in their skills and performance on the field.
Injury Prevention: Practicing soccer defense drills at home can help prevent injuries by improving a player’s strength, agility, and coordination. The better they are at controlling the ball and moving around the field, the less likely they are to get injured while defending.
Soccer defense is a critical part of the game, and practicing soccer defense drills is crucial to a player’s performance on the field. Practicing soccer defense drills at home by yourself can help players develop their individual skills and improve their overall performance on the field. Examples of soccer defense drills that you can do at home include cone weaving, shadow dribbling, tackling practice, reaction drills, jockeying practice, and wall pass. Practicing soccer defense drills at home is important for players of all levels to focus on their individual needs, be consistent with their training, master the fundamental skills, build confidence, and prevent injuries. By incorporating these drills into their training routine, players can become more effective defenders and make a bigger impact on the field.