We want our teams to be dynamic when attacking and strong when defending. They say “Defense Wins Championships” and good defending requires toughness, determination, and smarts.

“Old School Rules” is how we communicate to players that they are allowed to be tough and physical in training. Many younger players especially need to feel like they have permission to be strong on the ball and use their bodies to gain an advantage. Not allowed: eye pokes, throat punches, kicks to the groin. Everything else is fair game!

You might worry that this would lead to really dirty plays and injuries n training, but it doesn’t. Players know what pulling and pushing is fun and what is dangerous. And if someone crosses the line, the coaches can quickly correct it. Same for Game Day: players get more comfortable with legal contact like going shoulder-to-shoulder to win a ball or the tight marking that happens on set pieces.

The Ps of Defending

Our team’s objectives when defending will always be two Ps: 1) Prevent the opposing team from scoring or getting closer to your goal and 2) gain Possession of the ball. These are big-picture items, and the work of each player fits into this overall framework.

The defender closest to the player with the ball is called the First Defender. This player needs to employ 2 Ps as well: Pressure and Patience.

Pressure: the First Defender should immediately close down space to the attacker to make them uncomfortable and cause them to make a mistake. The first defender communicates to their teammates by saying “I’m in!” We teach fast-to-slow, sideways-low as the technique of applying pressure.

Patience: is about forcing the attacker to make a mistake rather than diving in and getting beat. Patience in defending gets more and more important as opposing players get older and more skilled. We teach body-first, ball-second when the attacker loses control of the ball. We teach techniques for block tackles, poke-tackles, and slide-tackles.

The most important “P” for the other defenders is Position:

  • recovery runs to get behind the first defender to provide cover and cut off penetrating runs
  • touch-tight and goal-side when marking
  • body shape to be able to see the ball and the marked attacker
  • compact shape to force the opponents to move the ball wide or backwards
  • cover and balance to prevent penetrating passes (through balls) and runs by other attackers

Of course, defenders in good position need to make a play on the ball in order to regain possession.

Overall objective: Prevention & Possession

First Defender objective: Pressure & Patience

Other Defenders: Position