Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Principles of Defense

Yes, there is a defense, after offense! Defense may be half of the game, but should not comprise half of the practice time. Overemphasis on defense at and early age can hinder player development. At youth levels, every player should spend some time as a defender and goalkeeper, and learn to take pride in these roles. Young player must first concentrate on technical and tactical skill of attack, then learn ways to play intelligently when the other team has the ball.

Whenever there are attacking and defending counterparts, the attacking instruction comes first. Example, first attacker instruction precedes first defender instruction, dribbling precedes tackling, offensive restarts precede defensive ones, and so on. Good defense will not exist until players are comfortable with the ball and encouraged to play offense. In fact, the quality of a team's defense cannot be tested until it faces a good offense.

The decision of defensive style (High Pressure vs Low Pressure, Man to Man vs Zonal) depends upon the immediate situation, the personnel, the particular third of the field, and the score. For example, a team that is behind in the score may play high pressure defense in order to regain possession; a team that is ahead in the score may opt for low pressure defense in order to protect its final third.

The ability to play both man-to-man and zonal defense should be a primary defensive objective for the youth coach. this takes more than one season, but the benefits in terms of understanding and teamwork are well worth the effort. Defense is above all a mental disposition, where the mind drives the body.

Many young players intuitively mark tightly when they are closed to the ball, and loosely when they are not. this is the first step toward zonal defense, and is easily developed in small-sided games. Encourage players to loosely mark the attacker who is farthest from the ball. then observe how these defenders cover the proper space. They should place themselves goalside, and be able to see the their man and the ball. The instruction integrate technique, principles of player roles, tactics, and finally, functional training. To progress immediately from techniques to functional training hinders players development. This error lead to poor decision-making and lack of teamwork. It reinforces blind clearing kick and overcommitment by impatient defenders who are misled into thinking that their 1st objective is to win the ball.

In developing individual defensive skill, the many attacking activities previously described will expose players to most defensive situations. In this activities coaches will be able to identify those players with the proper mental disposition of good judgment, patience, and discipline. Such players can serve as models for the rest, since every player becomes a defender the moment possession is lost.

What these players seem to do intuitively may be consciously taught to other players: Stay on your Feet. If cover is offered by a A2, win the ball ; if not, keep the attacker from turning with the ball; if the attacker does turn, force a back or square pass, or shepherd him across the field or along the touchline, protect the space behind you. Be patient! Do not tackle when the attacker has full control. The moment to tackle is when the attacker  is half turned, or has just dribbled the ball and no longer has contact with it. Tackling when the attackers has contact on the ball requires the defender's all out effort and weight behind the ball. In this case, lifting the ball over the attacker's foot will usually help.

These individual skills are the foundation of small group tactics. Together they are the key to quality defense, which team is DEFENSE.