Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Pressure, support and depth – go defensive

By David Clarke davidscwnew

Teaching defenders technique and the ability to move into the right places at the right time can be done on the training ground.

Here though, we combine the teaching with an immediate attack versus defence scenario, so players are straight away putting into practice what they have learnt.

So they must ensure they react to the call well, adopt the right shape, then be ready to defend immediately.

How to set it up:

  • Create a 25-yard square with 10 x 5 yards end zones.

  • In front of one end zone, place three cones across the width of the area, plus a mini goal just in front of the central cone.

  • Three defenders start behind the cones and three attackers start at the opposite end.

  • Stand halfway up the area on the touchline.

The technique:

The three defenders will need to move as per your instructions, so teamwork and unity is essential in maintaining a solid backline. So you will call either:

“Left” – the left defender pressures and shows inside, the central defender supports and stops the forward pass, the defender farthest away supports the central player and provides depth.

“Centre” – the central defender pressures the ball while the two wide defenders take up supporting positions behind, and to either side to stop the forward pass.

“Right” – the right defender pressures and shows inside, the central defender supports and stops the forward pass, the defender farthest away supports the central player and provides depth.

Getting started:

  • On your call, the defending team completes the defending technique task.

  • You then pass a ball to the attacking team at the opposite end.

  • Immediately, the defenders must run onto the pitch and use the group defending technique to stop their opponents from scoring in their target goal.

  • Each team has six run-throughs before the roles are reversed. The winning team is the one to have scored most times in the goal.

Stop attackers turning

By David Clarke davidscwnew

This session is all about stopping the opposition players with their backs to goal turning with the ball, so they won’t be able to pass or dribble into the space behind your defence.

The idea of the session is to:

  • Stop forward or through passes.

  • Stop good dribblers from turning and attacking your defenders.

  • Force opponents away from goal.

What players need to think about

  • Make up ground to within touching distance of the attacker while the ball is passed from the server.

  • Position body between attacker and target player.

  • Stand slightly sideways on ready to move quickly in any direction.

  • Get a clear view of ball.

  • Tackle when attacker is half-turned and not screening the ball.

How to play it

Use the centre circle for this session or an area 20 yards in diameter.

2 players – 1 attacker and 1 defender – start inside the playing area, with the defender initially giving the attacker some space.

1 server and 1 target player start on the edge of the circle in one half, with the other server and target player on the edge of the other half. All 4 players on the outside of the circle should be spaced apart equally.

The attacker receives the ball from a server and must attempt to turn and pass the ball to the target player on edge of the other half of the circle.

Whatever the outcome, the drill is repeated with the attacker next receiving a pass from the server in the other half. Rotate players so they all have a go at being the defender.

How to develop it

The unused server becomes a target player. The defender now has to cut off two options for the attacker.

Increase the size of the circle.

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Play sat nav football – so players know where they are on the pitch


When young players are involved in fast, action-packed matches they often lose their position and don’t realise what is going on around them. You find that the pace of some matches they play in will be just that bit too fast for them and they lose their soccer sense.

What I do with my teams is to play a fast, constantly moving game where players must think about position, action and direction.

How to set up and coach it

You need a 30 yard x 20 yard pitch. Use two teams of four players, and four mini goals. Create a triangle in the centre. One team defends the triangle the other team defends the four mini goals.

The team defending the triangle goal must nominate a goalkeeper whilst the other three players try to pressure and win the ball.

Play for 15 minutes then reverse the roles.

Coach the supporting defender

David Clarke By David Clarke

If you’re facing a team where the attackers are getting good support from the wings, you need your defenders to support each other in dealing with the threat. The supporting defender in this situation is vital for cutting off attacking options.

In this session players learn how to improve the understanding of covering and support between team mates.

How to play it

Set up a 30 yards by 20 yards area and add a 5 yards end zone at one end. Split the playing area down the middle with a row of cones so you can run two drills at the same time and allow more players to participate.

To begin, the defender near the end zone passes to the attacker at the other end. He must then stop the attacker from dribbling back towards him and into the end zone. The supporting defender, standing behind the playing defender, must give verbal support such as, “get tight”, “stand up” or “force wide”.

How to develop it

Remove the cones to create one pitch. Now two defenders work together in a 2v1 situation against the attacker. The first defender must put pressure on the attacker while the team mate covers and supports.

After the ball has been played, a second attacker enters the pitch from the other side and the defensive roles are switched. The defender creating pressure now covers and supports while the covering defender has a turn at putting pressure on the new attacker.

Turn it into a game

Play as above, but with the addition of a goalkeeper and goal. Now the attackers can shoot from distance so there is extra pressure on the defenders to move across quickly. The goalkeeper can provide additional support, communicating with both defenders.

Why unopposed exercises work

David ClarkeI will often run an unopposed session to encourage my players to move the ball and support each other without the added distraction of defenders.However, to make the session more realistic to the game I will add defenders at the end to reinforce player learning.

Unopposed sessions allow your attackers to be more confident in receiving the ball because they get the success they require from doing it.

Using unopposed exercises for build up and combination play in attack is a good way of coaching your players to move the ball, and encourages movement to support the ball as play moves around the pitch.

In this session, strikers and midfielders combine with a neat lay off and a precise threaded ball to set up a shot across the goalkeeper.

Set up a 40 yards by 30 yards playing area with four mannequins (poles or cones will do), two cones and two goals. You need eight outfield players and two goalkeepers.

How to play it

  1. The forwards move away from the mannequin to receive a pass.
  2. The forwards set the pass back to the supporting midfielders.
  3. The midfielders return the pass into space for the forwards to spin and run after. The forwards now shoot across the goal.


The midfielder becomes the forward for the next turn.

Chris McGinn takes strike

Chris McGinn is running some great courses to help coaches understand what they need to coach and how to coach it. I was at his defending course recently which he did at Fulham’s academy and it was very educational.

Any coach struggling to use defensive sessions or struggling to understand positional sense, how to coach positional sense or the words to tell youth players to use when they are defending 1v1, 2v1, 2v2, or when they are outnumbered will get a great deal out of Chris’s courses.

A former coach at Arsenal, Chelsea, Wigan, Fulham, QPR, Gillingham, Sheffield Wednesday, Bristol Rovers & Bristol City, Chris has a vast knowledge that coaches can learn a great deal from.

Chris is now going to do an attacking one-day course and I for one am going to make sure I go on it. It’s always a great day and a great way to meet other coaches and find out what they are coaching and what they hope to gain from going on coaching courses.

Chris told me: “I’m now ready to share my experiences of working with strikers like Nathan Dyer, Scot Sinclair, Bobby Zamora and Sanchez Watt .”

And he tells me that I can’t miss his course because he’s going to reveal his ‘Working with Strikers’
system on the course.

As usual the course fees are very reasonable which is especially good. They usually cost around £40 but he’s always got special offers on so why don’t you check his course out and maybe I’ll see you there!

Check his course out by CLICKING HERE

Recovery – I had to point out to my U11s that they were doing it

David ClarkeI spoke to Charlie at half time in a match this week. He was rather cross that I wouldn’t play him up front. He had been player of the match the previous week playing up front and thought this would be his position for keeps.

He said he was doing nothing playing in central defence and wasn’t sure why he was playing there. I explained to him about how he knew I moved players around the pitch to let them try different positions. But I also pointed out to him that he had twice recovered back and stopped a certain goal by tackling the player before they shot.

Not only that he had also cleared a long ball with his head away from danger. Is that good, he asked? Brilliant – as good as scoring a goal, I told him, and off he went pleased with himself.

I use this session to coach recovery with my players. It combines pace and awareness because players must concentrate on recovering by moving quickly, then supporting the other defenders. Another crucial part of this is in making sure that once your players have made it back they don’t turn off mentally and subsequently fail to complete the defending task. It can be all too easy to get back and think that the job is done, when really it has only just started!

How to set it up:
• Use a standard pitch for a warm-up sprint drill.
• Also set-up an area measuring 35×10 yards with a goal at one end – this will form the main part of the session.

Getting started:
• Start first with a sprint drill to teach defenders tracking back the key areas they should be running into.
• Players should run as fast as possible and take the shortest route towards the danger area. Players on the wing should take a line back towards the nearest goalpost, while those in the centre of the pitch should run towards the penalty spot.
• Now move to your 35×10 yard area.
• Three white strikers attack one defender and a goalkeeper.
• A second defender is 10 yards behind the play. His aim is to make it back to the ball to help prevent a goal.
• The middle striker is a server and cannot move. He plays the ball to either of the two white forwards. As soon as he does, play begins and the recovering defender can move.
• The lone defender must hold up the strikers until the second defender arrives.

The recovering player must make one of four decisions.
1. Challenge for the ball
2. Cover the defender
3. Mark an opponent
4. Mark space between the opponent and goal
• When a move comes to an end, play restarts with the serving attacker.

U11 soccer drills


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