Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Defend set pieces and secure the box

DCThis session helps defenders understand the importance of marking tightly in the penalty area and not losing their man. It also helps players to read the game and clear the ball and to keep your hands and arms by your side when play is in the penalty area.

Why use it

The two central defenders have to be excellent at reading the game, especially when the ball is played into a crowded penalty area from set pieces or open play. Staying calm and making sure the ball is cleared is vital to stopping the opposition scoring rebound goals.

Set up

Use the penalty area of your pitch. We’ve used 10 players including a keeper. You need plenty of balls, plus bibs, cones and a goal.


How to play

Split your group into three teams of three players with a keeper in goal. Two teams work inside the area, with one team attacking and one defending. The third team works outside the box around the edge of it. They have two balls each to play into the attacking team who try to score. Each game lasts for six balls and then swap teams around.


The defenders must mark man-to-man and be strong, making tackles and blocks to stop shots on goal.


How to coach Zonal marking

davidscwnewOnce your players understand the concept of zonal defending, this game allows you to put the system into context and gets them playing a game with lots of corners.

Why use it

The defending team is coached how to get into formation in a match when they have lost the ball and how to quickly assemble a zonal defense. After using our first session, run this and allow players to make decisions on where to defend at corners.


Use a playing area of 40×40 yards. You need a coned off area of 20×20 yards in front of one of the goals. We’ve used 14 players. You need bibs, balls, cones and two goals.

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How to play

Play 7v7 including keepers. Each team takes turns to attack and defend the coned off area. The defending team must be in the box when they haven’t got the ball, and if they put it out of play anywhere it is a corner against them. The attacking team plays normally but can’t score from outside the box. If the attacking team put the ball out it goes dead and restarts with their keeper. If the defending team win the ball, they can break out and counter-attack. At corners the defenders should set up to zonal mark as shown in the previous session.


Players use zonal marking at corners and when defending the box, learning where to support and where to mark.

Child development v parent glory

davidscwnewDuring the off season I spend a lot of my time at tournaments and I often look around for new players who, for whatever reason, have not fitted in with their clubs and face a season out in the cold.

Last year my club had been offered a number of players from rivals that were closing down. Three of these players were in an age group I was coaching and I was asked if I could fit them into my team. This was fine as I had a number of tournaments ahead and was looking for players to come along for a bit of fun and show me that they were up for playing in my team.

The next tournament was a six-aside affair and so the three new players would have a great deal of influence on the game and could let me see how interested they really were in playing for the club. I didn’t have any idea where they played on the pitch but because of the small-sided games, they would have to play in every position – again an ideal scenario because all my players swap positions during a season.


Dani Alves training fun with Barcelona

Of course, they all told me they play up front. The team performed really well but one of the parents did take it upon himself to voice his disapproval. “He doesn’t play in defence, hasn’t anyone told the coach?”

The player in question played very well during the first half but the parent kept up his banter.

“You don’t play in defence but you’ll just have to get on with it and do your best,” he said in his best stage whisper. The player looked across at me and we laughed.

“Is it right you’ve never played in defence?” I asked him at halftime.

“No,” he smiled, “I’ve played there plenty of times – I like playing there.”

So the second half started. “In defence again, that’s crazy!” shouted the parent. Eventually I did move him into midfield much to the parent’s delight and he played well there too, so it was a great game for me to watch him and to see that he was already able to play in more than one position.

His dad was wrong in wanting his son to play up the pitch to have the glory of scoring goals – just ask defenders like Dani Alves at Barcelona or Nathaniel Clyne at Liverpool if they hate being stuck in defence. There are all sorts of pressures heaped on young players and dads should try to support children wherever they are on the pitch. They should help them to learn all the positions because it helps with their development.

Coach yourself a Carles Puyol – Barcelona legend


By David Clarke

Barcelona’s captain Carles Puyol is known for his intense commitment and strength as a defender. According to Barcelona’s head doctor, Puyol is “the strongest, who has the quickest reactions, and who has the most explosive strength”.

Love him or loathe him, he is the sort of player who gives everything for the cause, who prides himself on being alert to wave after wave of attacking threats in and around the box. He is also the sort of player who is not afraid to put his body in harm’s way. And he’ll grab you the odd goal or two.

Ensuring that your players are back on their feet after a good tackle or clearance and ready to combat a second wave of danger is essential.

To keep them alive and reactive, here’s a defensive move that asks for quick reactions and tireless commitment to the cause.

How to set it up:

  • Create a playing area measuring 10×10 yards.

  • The drill requires four servers and one designated defender.

  • Each server starts on a different side, with a ball.

  • Place your defender in the middle – his job is to react to a different serve from each player around the area. After each serve, his task is to keep the ball within the box.

Getting started:

  • Starting on the left-hand side, server 3 throws the ball up for server 1 to head into the middle. The defender tries to stop the ball from going out of bounds.

  • Immediately, server 2 passes a ball towards the opposite line. The defender must now react, running to slide and stop the ball from crossing the line.

  • Now server 3 dribbles onto the pitch and attempts to get to the line opposite. The defender tries to stop him.

  • Finally, server 4 throws the ball over the defender’s head and attempts to run around him to win it back. The defender’s task is to shield the ball, letting it run over the line. If the ball stops dead before the line, he can then kick it clear to the left or the right.

  • Now rotate so that a different player acts as the defender.

Why this works:

Adopting the mindset that a defender’s job is rarely complete is absolutely vital if players are to counter all of the threats on a match day. After each phase of this drill, the defender needs to be alert to a new test, reacting quickly to each ball and clearing the danger.

Each test offers a new skill, and provides you with a quick-fire snapshot of where the defender’s game can be improved.

Press and drop in tight areas


This game is about pressing and dropping in tight areas of the pitch. It helps your players’ decision-making skills where overloads are concerned – their judgment of when to press and when to drop during a game, depending on numbers and position on the pitch.

Playing in exercises that have a game structure helps players understand training principles.

How to set it up:

  • This game requires cones and balls.
  • Use two 30×20 yards areas with a gap between of 10 to 20 yards. The bigger the gap, the fitter your players need to be.
  • Two teams – whites and greys – play 4v4 in each area, with a five-yard cone goal at each end but no keepers.

Getting started:

  • Start both 4v4s at the same time, instructing one team when to press high and when to drop back to cover lower down the pitch. Play for five minutes.
  • Now assign numbers – in both boxes whites are 1, 2, 3 and 4. Greys in both boxes are 5, 6, 7 and 8.
  • Returning to the game, when you call out a number the two players who have that number must switch pitches to create overload scenarios.
  • Play for a further five minutes.

Progressing the session:

The players now don’t have numbers, and can play in either box. If greys are winning in one box but losing in the other, players can switch to assist, leaving team mates behind to defend their lead. Play for 10 minutes.

Why this works:

As the players switch pitches they leave and join different overloads, adapting their game in the process. In the progression, the decision of when to support the other team is left to the players. The challenge is very match-like in that respect – when to press and when to drop.

Simple defensive block session


This game works on reactive speed and forces the players to work at match speed in order to be successful.

Set up an area 25 yards square with three poles, three balls and one goal.

The steps

  1. Split your players into two lines with one line acting as defenders and one line as the attackers.
  2. The players pass the ball back and forth. On your whistle, they quickly run around their poles.
  3. The attacker must then shoot first time and the defender must try to clear the ball or block the shot.

What to call out

  • “React”
  • “Get in line with the ball”
  • “Stop the shot”

Closing ranks at the back

davidscwnewGetting your defenders to close ranks on an attacking threat is vital for taking control of defensive situations in a match. Give the opposition time on the ball in your half of the pitch and they will find it much easier to create goal scoring chances from good passes.

All your players should be able to quickly close down the opposition no matter where they play on the pitch. If attackers are helping out the defence, they become an important part of helping to close the opposition down.

What you want your players to achieve when they are closing down is to make it harder for opponents to pass the ball. The discipline needs good timing and anticipation so the defender can stay balanced on their feet.

  • Try and anticipate while the ball is moving
  • Concentrate on the opponents around the ball
  • Wait until the right moment to make the tackle
  • Try and stay standing at all times

I use this game to get my defenders moving to block the pass and keep attackers at bay. They need to watch the ball at all times and keep tabs on the opponents.

How to play it

  • Defenders start on the edge of the pitch and pass the ball across to an attacker.
  • Defenders must follow the ball to mark the attackers.
  • Attackers can only have three touches each and must cross the line of cones before they can pass to attacker 3, who must stay off the pitch at the defenders’ end.
  • Defenders must move to block passes to attacker 3.
  • Defenders should have their knees slightly bent in a crouching position, and be slightly side on to the attacker.
  • Defenders should be close enough to the attacker to pounce if a chance to tackle is offered.
  • Defenders should stay on their feet and move quickly.
  • Good communication between team mates is necessary when passing or covering the space to block.