Assigning Defensive Positions

By Rob Smith

Decisions as to how to form a starting team will likely be very random in the beginning. In the first few games, positions should serve only to give the players self-identity and a place to stand at the start and restart (when goals have been scored) of the game. Players should have the opportunity to try other positions during the course of the season and be assigned certain minor responsibilities, such as throw-ins and free-kicks to build confidence. Team formation should be flexible enough to adjust to the player’s development in skill, positional sense, and basic knowledge of the principles of the game.

Defenders know that their role is basically to stop the other team from scoring. However, they should also keep in mind that they can be as much a part of the attack as the forwards and if an opening presents itself, should exploit every opportunity. In youths, the developing mindset of a defender is a little different. For defenders, the glory is not immediate as when a forward scores a goal and gets immediate adoration. A defender needs to be shown that stopping a potential attack from the opposing team has as much value as a goal even though the value doesn’t present itself on the score sheet. The coach should assign players with the desired physical and psychological traits to defensive positions until the strength of competing teams can be tested. The following are characteristics of certain positions. Of course it’s unlikely that a youth coach will find in any one player all of the qualities as defined here, but with a little intuition it’s not difficult to fit a player to a position.


The goalkeeper should be the epitome of coordination, possessing the agility of a gymnast, the hands and timing of a wide receiver, and the courage of a hockey goalie. The coach must be very careful when assigning a young player to this very demanding position, and must make a selection only after a number of workouts have shown that a player has the necessary qualities.

Wing Fullbacks

The wing fullback must be able to adopt both defending and attacking roles as the flow of the game dictates. When assigning young players to these positions, the coach must clearly state that their first and most important task is to defend their own goal. The responsibilities of the wing fullback are to man-mark the opposing winger whenever the ball is in the general area, to support other defending players, and to be a ball winner. Strength, speed, concentration, aggressiveness, decisiveness, and a basic understanding of defense make a good wing fullback.

Sweeper Back

The sweeper back is basically a “free man” sweeping or moving, from touchline to touchline. The deployment of a sweeper is primarily for an extra defensive measure. The sweeper’s responsibility is to cut off any penetrating runs or passes through the defenders. Since this is a highly specialized position, the coach must assign it to the player who shows a natural talent for defending and being in the right spot at the right time. The sweeper will have speed, strength, stamina, awareness, decisiveness, confidence, and poise. The player should also have a basic understanding of the principles of defense.


A Stopper connects the defense and the midfield by protecting the defensive 1/3 of the field before situations get too dangerous when the opposing team is attacking. However, when the ball starts moving up field, the Stopper then supports the midfielders on the offensive half of the field often through passing and ball movement. If you choose to play this Stopper more as a midfielder (like in a 3 – 5- 2 formation), it allows for more  flexibilty on offense. Overall the Stopper position is designed to stregthen your midfield.

One Response to Assigning Defensive Positions

  1. Benjamin mina March 22, 2011 at 7:26 am #

    I like Wat I hav just read am a wing fullback so I learnt a lot.

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