Defending is not about being big, fast and strong. Yes, those things help but the best defenders are the smartest and don’t just relay on their athleticism to win tackles; they use their minds. Here’s a quick rundown of the keys to playing good defense in soccer:
Stand the player up and don’t dive in.
See the player and the ball at all times. Focus on the ball when defending one versus one.
Keep the player in front of you.
Bend your knees and be on your toes.
Be prepared to move backwards and or to the side quickly.
Listen to your teammates behind you. They can give you directions, such as steering the player to the touchline, inside or to make a tackle when there’s an opportunity.
Work to make attackers make mistake – have patience and don’t fail for feints.
Force the attacker into pressure – where there are other defenders.
Work to keep the ball in front of you – it is fine to let an attacker have the ball with his back turned to you away from goal. No need to foul.
If support is behind, increase pressure and look to win the ball.
Close distance while ball is traveling to the player. Make the attacker make a mistake because they think you’re going to win the ball.
Stay on your toes and avoid standing flat footed – that’s how a defender gets beat.
Defenders must tighten up when getting close to goal so defenders can win balls when attackers make mistakes.
Play hard and with intensity – don’t give up even if you get beat, track back towards the goal.
Yes, there are times when you do have to foul the player on purpose – this is called a professional foul, when your team might be up in the attack and can’t get back and you need to foul a player so you don’t get counter attacked.
How to defend 1 v 1
Close down space and be 1-2 steps away from the attacker. If you are too far away that gives them time to get their head up and look around. Get close to force their head down.
Jockey, be patient and don’t dive in. The best attackers want you to dive in on them because they will just touch it around you and go. So we want to jockey them.
Force the attacker onto their weak foot.
Be on your toes! Don’t be back on your heels.
Keep your feet moving, don’t stand like a statue.
Keep your eye on the ball! Do not look at the attacker’s feet, hips or shoulders. Focus on the ball.
Win the ball with confidence when the time is right. When you do step in get your body behind you. Don’t just reach and lunge for the ball with your foot.
How to defend 1 v 1 when the attacker has back to you
Be an arm’s length away. This will give you a good guide on how close you should be on the attacker. Notice you are still tight on them, but now if they turn you can see it coming and you are less likely to foul. Don’t pull their pony tail or their shirt or put your hand on their shoulder. Just have your arm out as a distance guide.
Stand sideways, not straight on.
Be patient. If the attacker is going away from your goal you are doing your job. Remember that. A lot of players, including pros, get in trouble here. They get impatient, try to win it and end up fouling the attacker or get spun. If you hold up that attacker for a few seconds what are your teammates going to do? Usually someone is going to come over and double team the attacker you are holding up. But that can only happen if you are patient.
Let them make the mistake. They have to make a play, you don’t. If you are holding them up you are making a play. When they try to force a play and make a bad touch or have the ball a little to close between their legs then YES by all means get a foot in and win it.
Run with the Attacker when they turn. Lots of times when attackers turn, defenders dive in and get beat. Yes, if you think you can win it then step in and win it but more times than not it’s best to turn and run with the defender and win the ball that way as you have a few steps on them because of your angle.