One thing that coaches are often guilty of doing, is brushing over defending as a topic to cover during training sessions, particularly during high school seasons, when your time is limited due to the number of matches. In addition, some coaches, like me, play the game in a much more attacking way, which tends to focus on the time from gaining possession to scoring. Self-admittedly, this overlooks one key factor- to gain possession, you must first DEFEND.
Defending is also a much less glamorous position to hold and a much less exciting component or skill to practice. Every player wants to get out on the field, beat guys 1v1 and score goals . . . ALL DAY! But a team that struggles to defend- individually or as a unit- will struggle to win games. Therefore, we must focus on defensive responsibilities of individual players and as a team regularly.
Roles of the Individual Defender
Golden Rules of Individual Defending:
Key Principles of 1 v. 1 Defensive Pressure:
Quick Pressure- The player nearest the ball must “close the space” as quickly as possible as soon as the ball is played to his opponent. You should close ground on your opponent as the ball is traveling to the attacker, do not wait until he/she has received the ball. Defender has three priorities:
Touch Tight Pressure (within touching distance/arms length)- When closing down space, it is important that you don’t overrun the play. As a rule you should slow down about 5 yards from the attacker and gradually take away the remaining space in a controlled defensive position.
Patient Pressure- Good defenders will recognize that they do not need to win the ball immediately. If you approach the attacker quickly and under control, taking away his space, you will shift the initiative to the attacker. Most attacking chances are created through poor and impatient defending. General rules for “Patient pressure” are:
Problem Areas for Defenders
As you can see the role of the first defender is vital to the success of team defending. If we do a poor job in applying pressure to the ball and taking away the attackers options the whole defensive system will suffer. It is very important that we spend time teaching each player the principles of individual defending. The 1 vs. 1 is the foundation of the game. This doesn’t just apply to the attacking principle, but defensive as well.
Throughout most matches, the transition from defense to offense- or offense to defense- will usually go through the midfield players who are tasked with supporting either the forwards or attacking midfield players or the defense. They must have vision to see where to pass, and the skill and speed to execute their tactics.
Here is the biggest non-committal phrase in soccer: "It depends." Players often ask questions about what to do and invariably, my answer will include this phrase. So much of our decision making truly depends on the dynamics of the moment. So coaching this game, and especially transition, is tricky.
A few key points for midfielders to be aware of when transitions from defense to offense:
Liverpool play an attacking style that Jurgen Klopp has famously called "Heavy Metal Football". This is a direct style of play that employs a few key components:
In a nutshell, the style requires intensity, creativity, quick thinking and quick strikes.
Space- in soccer, it’s sometimes THE FINAL FRONTIER . . . . Learning the power of available spaces on the field can be powerful for any player or team. It can be a difficult concept for some players to learn, mostly because they are accustomed to playing sports where the idea is to pass a ball directly to a person, not behind them or well in front of them. But in soccer, it’s often the key to a dynamic and successful attack.
The first trick in understanding space is knowing when and when not to play a ball there. Often times, our best option is to play a ball directly to a player- feet, head, etc. To make things even more difficult, players have to make these decisions in seconds. They need to be able to read attacking patterns on the field and often under pressure from a defender, especially during indoor where space is limited and pressure is tight.
Liverpool FC (The greatest club in the world! . . . I'm required to say that), are perhaps one of the best teams to demonstrate the ways in which playing to space or feet can be productive in attack, and usually through combination play that results in scoring opportunities. Take a few minutes to watch this highlight compilation from LFC's 2018 campaign to see what great attacking runs and combinations look like:
Playing the ball into space requires three very important things to take place:
Similarly, players can create space on the field by simply moving on the field. Similar to a check run, this is intended to drag a defender away from a space, thereby making the space available for another teammate to run onto the space and exploit it.
Types of Runs:
The bottom line- players spend MOST of their time on the field WITHOUT THE BALL. Understanding their usefulness and the advantages they can create are extremely important for every player.
Strong legs. Fast reflexes. Pure speed. Soccer players boast some serious athletic attributes. Here’s how to get them.
Forgetting for a moment the sheer distance covered in a match (about seven miles), what might be most impressive about soccer players are their razor-sharp moves. A pass fake to thread between defenders, stealing the ball from an opponent dribbling down the field, pulling a 180 to scissor-kick the ball mid-air—all require fast feet and reflexes. Also known as agility. So what is it, exactly? The basis of agility is acceleration. The ability to speed up, decelerate, change direction, reaccelerate.
Much of our training at U14 builds in agility to our drills and scrimmages. But agility is different from endurance. Agility workouts require training at 95 to 100 percent of max effort, meaning you’re getting up to an all-out sprint during every run. To ensure that intensity, sessions have short active periods and long rests. Coaches also often build in sport-specific skills like swerves, cuts, and drop-steps, to mimic on-field action. Agility has obvious benefits on the pitch and doing agility work at a high intensity may have brain benefits, too. A University of Copenhagen study suggests that working at 90 percent of your max can improve motor memory consolidation—the brain’s ability to retain new motor skills.
Due to our lack of time in training, players MUST maintain their physical fitness independently. Here are some exercises players can, and should do, in order to build and maintain speed, agility, strength and endurance: