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FineSoccer Drill 14 - Defensive Games

Here are two more drills that can be used to work on both offense and defense but really put a tremendous emphasis on defensive intensity.

First start with a standard small sided game but on a very large field. For example, this could be a 6v6 game on a full sized field with two keepers in the goals. Each player on Team A is assigned a player on Team B. The rules are quite simple for this game. A player can only mark the player they are assigned on the opposing team. This means that there is no defensive support at all. If the player you are assigned beats you, then she can go to goal unhindered. This forces a player to really work hard to get back on defense because there are no ifs, ands or buts about whose fault it is when a goal is scored. If the player you are assigned to scores a goal, everyone will know it was your player and you were at fault. This is a great conditioning drill plus it will show real quickly who wants to win more (some players will turn this into a game of full field sprints where they get back on defense and go forward on offense at full speed. Other players will stand around talking to the player they are marking thinking that if neither runs very hard, they will both look good.

I like to use this game for a couple of reasons. First, I can see who will make a commitment to defend (it has always amazed me that a player would allow themselves to get beat repeatedly in this game without becoming totally embarrassed. It also works on defensive footwork and attacking 1 v 1. You might want to check out the discussion below for a review on 1 v 1 play. Another thing it works on is conditioning which will become real apparent real quickly. However, emphasize that the players should play normal soccer and not turn this into a complete game of 1v1.

As this game continues, switch the defensive responsibilities around so that players are constantly being challenged. This could mean having a fast player match up with another fast player or a forward match up with a marking back (or have a forward match up with a forward and see who wins the battle. Players are allowed to intercept passes, just not interfere with a player with the ball.

The next step in this progression is to do the exact opposite. Instead of having players pre-assigned to marks, have them not allow to mark anyone until a predetermined captain or the keeper assigns them to the mark. This means that after each loss of possession, the keeper and captain must quickly assign marks so that the players can slow the ball down and start to defend properly. This is a GREAT way to get keepers and sweepers to work on communication (I have yet to have a player who liked this drill but that has never bothered me at all). When possession is lost, the defensive team can sprint back toward their own goal but may not do anything more then that until they have been assigned their marks. This encourages both better talking as well as better listening and complying then most players are accustomed to.

It is not good enough for the keeper to say, "you get Lisa on every loss of possession" rather this must be reassigned after each change of possession. Offensively, teams should play normal soccer (although the quicker they can pass the ball around, the harder it is for the team to defend).

Please realize that players will get discouraged playing both of these games and will try to find ways to get around them but they really do work well once you sell the players on their value.

1v1 Play

The interesting part of this discussion is that I will be dealing with it from both the offensive and defensive side of things. The reason for this is quite simple. Most of soccer can be broken down into real small battles between one offensive player and one defensive player. Whichever team ends up winning the majority of these small battles usually ends up winning the entire match. There is no way to talk about 1v1 without talking about both sides. In dealing with this subject, I am going to make the assumption that the offensive player has a decent repertoire of moves.

I will start with the defensive stance of the first defender. Her knees should be bent, feet approximately 12-18 inches apart (width) and one foot in front of the other. All of the weight should be on the balls of the feet. This position should enable the defender to move in most direction at a quick pace as well as to change directions quickly. The first decision the defender must make is which direction she would like to push the attacking player. In most cases, the defender would like to push the attacker away from her support and towards the defender's support. On the sides of the field, this frequently means pushing the player toward the sideline, which can be considered a second defender. If the attacker is coming down the middle of the field then a number of quick decisions have to be made. First of all, where are the supporting defenders? Secondly, where are the supporting attackers? Thirdly, which foot does the attacking player want to be using. Once all of these factors have been taken into consideration the decision of which side should the attacking player be pushed becomes much easier. Lets assume for the moment that the decision has been made to force the opponent down HER right side. This is best accomplished by the defender by placing the right foot in front of the left and 1-2 feet to the side of the attacking players left foot (assuming you are facing the attacking player in the proper stance and a few yards from the player. By standing to the side of the attacking player this way, she will feel she can beat you down her right side. If she tries to beat you down this side, YOU, THE DEFENDER, HAVE WON! You have made her react to your movements and this means you have won the first battle. Please understand that you must maintain a cushion from the attacking player since if you get caught up to close to her, she will blow past you since she is facing forward and you are essentially having to match her step for step going backwards.

Does this mean that anytime the attacker goes in the direction that the defender wants her to that the defender has won? NO! What it means is that long term if the defender gets the attacker to go in her direction she will usually win.

To combat this, a good defender will attack the defenders front foot. Using the example from above, this would mean the attacker dribbling at the defenders right (front) foot. By doing this, it will force the defender to do one of three things. If she stands her ground, the attacker will get close enough to her that she can blow by her real easily. That would be option 1. Option 2 is for the defender to shuffle backwards maintaining the same distance from the attacker. If this happens, the defender will eventually get pushed out of bounds since she will be going both backwards and toward the side in trying to push the attacker down her right side. The third option is for the defender to, at some point, perform a drop step and change the direction she is forcing the attacker. This is accomplished by having the defender switch from having her right foot in front to rotating the hips and stepping back with the right foot so that now the left foot is in front as well as being to the side of the attacking players right foot. Of the three options, this is the only one that doesn't involve complete surrender of the particular battle although if the defender does this, the attacker is certainly in control.

The best way for the defender to combat the opposition attacking her front foot is to utilize a proper feint. People spend a lot of time working on various moves and feints on offense, but it's equally as important on defense. As the attacker is driving at the defenders front foot, the defender can feint as if she is going to go in for a tackle. This will do one of two things. Either the attacker will put her head down and slow down, or she will lose possession of the ball. Either way, the defender has taken control back from the attacker. Note that at no point have I mentioned diving in and stabbing for the ball. In defense especially, patience is a virtue. If you are in control of the situation by forcing the opponent in the direction you want them to go and are controlling pace and vision through proper feinting, in time the attacking player will give you the ball. Be patient and good things will happen. Some of you might say that this is not true and they know such and such a person who never makes mistakes with the ball. My response to that is this is not true. I have had the privilege of working with a number of All Americans as well as a few national team players and they are just like everyone else. If you give them enough opportunities to make a mistake they will make one. The difference with most of them is that if you are not patient and let the dictate play, they will kill you. Remember that the best way to hurt an attacking player is to simply put her under pressure. In soccer, the two variables that affect pressure are time and space. If you can take away the attacking players time and space through proper positioning and feinting, she will feel pressure and this will force her to lose possession of the ball.

The next time you see two players going 1v1 against each other, see who is winning the individual battles most of the time. Chances are, whoever wins these battles will also win the match.

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