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Defensive skills essential to a team's defensive play

By Danny Mielke

Numerous skills are essential for the success of a team’s defensive play. Defensive players must possess good running speed and must be able to move quickly to various locations on the field. Defensive players must be able to guard or mark opposing players to prevent easy passing and scoring opportunities and should steal the ball from the opposition if given the chance. Defensive players must be adept at tackling, the action of using the feet to take the ball from an opposing player (not intentionally knocking them down as in American football).

In addition, defensive players must perform some essential defensive movements. Sometimes defensive players are called on to block shots at goal, clear the ball away from the defensive area, stop or delay the advance of the opposing team, or challenge all attacking players.

Executing the Slide Tackle - You can do it!
As a good defender, usually you want to stay on your feet while defending. Position yourself between the attacking player and your goal, then patiently wait for an opportune moment to block or steal the ball. However, if the ball is too far away to effectively block or steal, then you may choose to use the slide tackle.

The slide tackle is an essential soccer skill used by both defensive and attacking players. The slide tackle requires good timing and technique and should be used sparingly. Often players think that the only way to steal a ball from another player is to use the slide tackle. The major disadvantage of this technique is that unless the player can recover quickly, he or she will not be available for the subsequent play of the game. This may create an unfortunate mismatch.

To begin a slide tackle, lead with the foot that is farthest from the ball. This practice gives you extra reach and reduces the chances of giving away a foul. When you initiate the slide tackle, you should be in a position square to the player you wish to tackle. Your sliding action will be to the side, not straight forward.

Timing is vital, and the slide tackle takes plenty of practice to master. As with any soccer skill, watch the ball carefully, try to anticipate your opponent’s move, and remember to go for the ball, not the player, when you slide.

If you contact the ball first and then the player, no foul occurs. But if you miss the ball and knock over the attacking player, your opponents will be awarded a free kick, which can lead to an easy goal-shooting opportunity.

Clearing the ball is an essential defensive skill. When you are in the defensive third of the field, you want to move the ball to the attacking third as quickly as possible.

Clearing the Ball - More to choose and use
Be quick and get to the ball first. Be the first to reach the ball. Send the ball as high as you can to permit your team some time to get into position. If possible, it is best to clear the ball long downfield so you can initiate an attack. Often you can clear the ball with a volley or a header. Don’t wait for the ball to drop and bounce before making a play.

Staying in Ready Position
Always be in an athletic ready position as a defender. Keep your feet moving. Use your arms to stay balanced. Crouch so your legs can spring when you need to move. Balance your weight over your toes so you are ready to move.

Developing Quickness
A good defensive player must be able to move quickly in any direction. To move effectively, push off the foot opposite the direction in which you plan to move. For quickness, move your feet in rapid, short steps.
An important skill to practice and perfect is the side step or slide. This fundamental skill is widely used in many sports that require a player to shuffle sideways. A great way to practice the side step is to slide from the goal box line to the goal line, side stepping 10 times. Rest and do 10 more.

Using the Ball and Cover Approach
An excellent defensive strategy is to team two defenders in a ball and cover approach. One defender uses a solid defensive technique to guard the player who has the ball. Usually, the defender will be in position to close the passing lane toward the center of the field. The second defender positions himself to cover the likely recipient of a pass. Often, the ball and cover technique allows the defender guarding the ball to be a bit more aggressive in challenging the ball. The second defender also is in better position for stealing the ball when it is passed.

Shut-Out Defense - Take it to the field
The main job of a defender is to prevent goals from being scored. Always stay on your goal side of the opponent. Then you will be in blocking position if the attacker shoots the ball.

A defender will need to block and tackle opponents. Watch the ball, not your opponent’s feet. Challenge with your body turned sideways as you attempt to force your opponent toward the sideline. When you challenge for the ball, keep your weight centered, which will allow you to move in any direction. Use the inside of your foot to make contact with the ball.

A good defensive player is patient and does not overcommit when marking and challenging an opponent. Be ready to move when an opponent loses control of the ball or pushes it too far forward.

Be aware of your field position and the position of your teammates. If you challenge an opponent and miss, it may result in a goal if your teammates are not ready to back you up.

Clearing - Give it a go
Three attacking players begin at midfield, one on each wing and one in the center. The three defensive players take position with two defenders and a goalkeeper. The defenders attempt to keep the advancing ball wide to the outside of the field. The defenders must be patient. They can allow shots from wide positions or cross shots. One defender should stay in the center of the field to eject any cross shots. The other defender challenges for the ball on the wing. When the defenders intercept the ball, they should clear the ball out of bounds or back downfield. The attacking players are awarded a point each time they score a goal. The defense gets one point for each cleared ball.

From a defensive perspective, this activity will show players how to force low-percentage shots and how to cover the center for crossing passes.

A Closing Challenge
This game will increase skill in marking and challenging an attacking player. An attacking player receives a pass. The defender, who is 10 to 15 yards away, must rapidly close on the attacker. As the attacker prepares to touch the ball, the defender should assume a side-on ready athletic position, keeping the feet moving and preparing to react to the attacker’s movement. Using short, quick shuffle steps, the defender attempts to get within an arm’s length of the attacker. As the attacker moves, the defender stays goal side and with the attacking player.

Don’t overcommit. Close on the attacking player and be ready to react to the player’s movements.

This is an excerpt from Soccer Fundamentals.

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