Defense is harder than most people think. This position requires strength, awareness, speed and general athleticism more than the other positions. I would argue defenders are the most under-appreciated players. The challenges abound for defenders to be leaders with good attitudes. To direct from the back, communicating what needs to happen. Below are 3 things that are hard for a defender at any level.
Tracking your man when the balls out wide
One of the hardest things for a defender is being able to see your man and the ball, while tracking a player in the middle.
You want to be able to use your hands to not grab, but know where your opponent is.
Position yourself as early as possible, so you can turn and face the field, not the goal you’re defending. There are times you have to, but this is not ideal.
If you are the center back and tracking your man, while the ball is outside about to be crossed in.
This is a time you need to work harder than ever to put yourself in position to make the play, otherwise you will get scored on more.
Staying ball side, checking your shoulder and staying at least within arms reach is key.
Ball watching instead of scanning
Ball watching is another thing that is common for defenders. Once the ball’s cleared up it’s easy to think you can rest, therefore players watch the ball vs scanning.
It’s very easy to watch your teammates make plays because that’s where the action is.
Most players want to watch the ball, but you have to know where all the players off the ball are. Once you clear a ball up or your team has advanced to the other half remember to scan.
When you know where the defenders are, you can make a quicker decision and better position yourself. In doing this you can know what to do before you can the ball.
Learning by watching game film
The only way it gets harder is when the players you are playing get better, smarter and faster.
The good thing as most players are not so creative, so this won’t happen much at the youth level.
College is when you really start to see the difference and especially pro.
One way to improve in this is to have a trainer/coach watch you play a game.
Or even better record [make highlights] of your games like this and have them go over the game with you. Then they can point out what you are doing right or wrong. Usually when defending, it’s the timing of when to step and cover.
Every second is important, so the more you know the better player you will be.
When to ‘get tight’ on your mark
Knowing when to step into the midfield to get tight on a attacking player. Especially when there are already 2 attackers on the last line of defense.
If you don’t know, a defensive unit needs to have 1 extra man so that you can keep the other team from scoring.
There are some players and teams who are very creative and will switch up there attacking mids and forwards.
A forward will float into the midfield and the midfielder will get high, meaning go all the way to the last line of defense.
At a youth level many defenders are used to being told by the coach to mark #10 or #9 or whoever. When that happens the defenders get used to marking that player.
If a player goes into the midfield and brings you with them it leaves a gap in the defense. If a #8 is smart he or she can go up and cause lots of confusion who to mark.
The best thing is for the defense to not man mark certain players. Instead, play “zone type defense” and keep the teams shape.
Balance tracking players and passing players on. The key to this is lots of training, so you’re used to it and also lots of communication with your teammates.
There are good step and cover drills that you can work on with groups of 6+ players.
The best way is to be aware in scrimmage and games and try to improve each week Once you build the good habits you are good to go.
Why a defender plays a more stressful role
Every soccer player will tell you that playing in the back is much more stressful than playing up top. The reason is because if you lose the ball in the back, most likely your team will concede a goal.
Losing the ball up top, playing forward is not as much of a big deal. After losing the ball in the attacking third, the other team still has a long way to go.
That’s why a good defender stays cool, calm and collected when under pressure.
It’s a good idea for young players to get put in different positions. Not only will you learn each position, but you will respect your teammates later down the road.
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