Defense Wins Championships!

By Doug Pillsbury

In most sport, teams that win championships play great defense. Proper defensive play is also critical in soccer. Often, coaches spend most of their time teaching attacking, while ignoring the role defense and proper defensive technique plays in the success of their team.

Let’s examine four principles of defense:

  1. Immediate Pressure – an important concept to teach your players is that EVERY player is a defender at times, and everyone is an offensive player at times. Often, a forward will lose the ball and let down their guard because they are an “offensive” player and they don’t need to worry about defense. As a coach, teach each player that the MOMENT possession is lost they are in active defensive mode. They need to QUICKLY attempt to regain possession or apply pressure to the ball. There are several benefits to immediate pressure.

    1. The best time to regain possession is often when the opponent first gains possession. If your opponent has just intercepted a pass and are trying to regain their balance and control the ball. Often, if pressure is applied at that point, they don’t have good field vision and are likely to make a poor pass and lose the possession. Teach your players to strike at that point.

    2. Slow down your opponents attack – even if your forward doesn’t steal the ball, the opponent may be forced to play the ball back or take controlling dribbles away from their goal.

    3. Aggressive Mindset – by teaching your players to transition quickly from offensive to defense, the entire team will become more aggressive. In soccer, typically the aggressor has a better chance of controlling play and the more you have possession of the ball, the greater your attacking opportunities will be. Therefore, to have each player ready to apply immediate pressure will help facilitate an aggressive mindset.
  2. Delay – the flip side of immediate pressure is delay. If the opponent secures the ball and the defender lunges at the ball, there is a great chance a good dribble will result in an advantage for the opponent. Teach your players that they need to pressure without over committing. They should close-out on balance so that their opponent cannot beat them with a good 1 v 1 move. By delaying the player in possession of the ball, they will allow the rest of their teammates to transition to defense and will slow down the attack of the opponent.

  3. Depth – as their teammate is delaying the offensive attack, each defender needs to quickly get into a good defensive position behind the pressuring defender. Especially important are those defenders who are in proximity to the teammate who is providing pressure on the ball. In the event that the dribbler goes by their pressuring teammate, they need to be in position to stop the ball. Defenders do not want to find themselves in a line, where a good offensive player could break through and be unopposed to the goal. They need proper depth behind the attacking player, so in the invent the pressuring defender is beaten, they can pick up the offensive player and regain possession or delay the dribbler.

  4. Balance – The defenders furthest from the ball or closest to the goal they are defending, need to cover important spaces in the middle of the field in order to prevent the opponents from making runs into the center of the field. If the ball is on the far right side of the field, the left side defenders would shift into the middle of the field to provide defense in case the ball was crossed to the middle. As the ball approaches the goal they are defending, players need to limit the time and space for opponents to play the ball, by concentrating their defense centrally.

Even though most of the time coaches are focused on attacking, most activities or game you incorporate in your practice should have a defensive component. You can use these drills to teach these four basic principles and you will see a tremendous improvement in your team’s ability to defend.

If you want to learn more about defending, check out the following DVD which has a segment entitled, “Defending as a Unit.” 

All Access Soccer Practice:  With Bobby Clark

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