Have you ever been taught how to step and cover when defending in soccer? First of all, don’t just think of defenders. Remember that forwards and midfielders are also defenders. Forwards are actually the first line of defense. When forward and midfielders know how to step and cover the whole team will be better. Defenders need to learn how to communicate to their teammates in front of them. Good communication will lead to less action on your defensive end. This means you will score more goals and get scored on less. Below I teach how every player position can benefit in this, as an individual and in helping the whole team be more successful.
How you step to the ball when defending in soccer
To STEP to the ball or man is to put quick pressure on the opponent who is receiving the ball. Immediate pressure makes the opponent nervous and keeps them from looking up to dribble or pass. When you step, it should be at 100% speed. Once the opponent gains good control is when you should start to slow down and break down in defensive stance. Remember to keep your feet moving.
While you are stepping it’s important to listen and maybe peak back. If you can do this it will help you know where the other team wants to go with the ball.
During this time as you step to the ball, hopefully your teammates are communicating to you. They can be saying to either “step left” or “step right”. All this means is you are stepping a few feet or yards to cut of the pass or dribble.
How you cover when on defense
When one players steps, the other teammate must cover. To COVER is to drop off a little bit behind the player stepping. As you are stepping back also squeeze in, so that the ball is not passed between(split) you and the player stepping. The purpose of the player covering is in case the player stepping gets beat off the dribble. Another reason to cover is to make sure there’s not a long pass in behind.
In the picture above you see #6 in orange covering for the other 3 defenders. The orange team is going left, while the white team is going right and is just inside the 18 yard box (in shooting range). One defender is on the ground slide tackling. #25 in orange (me) marking #11 in white. Then the defender in orange facing you is marking the attacker whos behind him.
When not to step to the ball
Let’s say you the defender are between the half line and the goal you’re defending. Then an attacking player gets the ball and beats your midfielder, so now your mid is chasing them. In this case you might need to start dropping off instead of stepping to.
Two reasons not to step and instead drop off.
- Since the attacker is still far away from your goal, this gives your midfielder time to catch the opponent who’s dribbling.
- The last thing you want to do is step and get beat right away – off the dribble. Getting beat early would give the attacker confidence and a chance to score.
How to communicate to your teammates in front
When telling a teammate to step, you can also shout to step left or right. This doesn’t mean you want them to go mark a player to the left or right. Instead to step left or right is to cut off a pass behind the player stepping. Make sure your teammate knows that you just want them to step left or right a few feet. These few feet make a huge difference and makes it very difficult for your opponent with the ball.
Who should talk the most on the team? Goalkeepers and center backs because they can see the whole field, most of the time. These 2 positions can direct best because they can see all or most of their teammates and opponents. Center mids probably have the hardest time because they are surrounded by everyone.
The players who steps can shout “I go” while the player who covers can tell the other player “step” or “go to”. Then while saying that you should be covering, not just standing there.
3 reasons why you cover when defending in soccer
- Often times when the opponent gets pressure put on them they panic and kick a long ball. This is why when one players steps to apply pressure the other covers.
- Much of the same reason as the first is so that the other team doesn’t pass over or through you and your teammates.
- Covering helps you see the field and those around you a little better. Imagine you stay in one spot. This would allow you to see everything in front. Then imagine stepping back 3-5 yards. Everything that was to the side of you is now more in front of you. Doing this can help you know who’s open.
Drills that help you step and cover when defending
A great drill for all ages and levels, youth as young as age 7 to the pros. Using 8 players, you’ll make 2 teams. Set up 4 lanes using a total of 15 cones. 5 cones in the middle separating the 2 teams [middle cones are 3 yards apart]. Then each player will have 2 cones behind them [back cones are 5 yards from the middle line. So each player is in a 5×3 square. Players all face an opponent in their own lane.
Attacking team has the ball and passes it back and forth [side to side] to whoever they want. The player on the left can pass it all the way to the player on the right, bypassing the 2 middle players or simply pass to the player next to them. Make it difficulty for the defenders to know who’s going to get the ball, so they have to be ready.
Defending team is on defense and when the player in front of them gets the ball, the defender sprints 100% up to the middle of the grid. There are 5 cones marking the middle of the two teams. Once the player with the ball passes it the defender who was in front of the passer will quickly drop off [cover] by backpedaling. This continues for 2 minutes. Then the other team gets the ball. The players don’t actually steal the ball, instead put high pressure by stepping to the player who gets the ball in front of them. This teaches them to step and cover when defending.
Click here to see graphics on drills to help with how to step and cover when defending, by ‘soccer coach weekly’.
How each position plays a role to step and cover
Remember this applies to every position from defenders to forwards. Goalkeepers and defenders need to communicate to the forwards and mids. This will keep your opponents from connecting passes in your defensive end. No matter how good you are at communicating and defending in soccer, these extra tips will help.
The first line of defense is your forwards, second line mids and 3rd line is your defensive line. Most teams play a 4-4-2. The 2 represent the forwards (first line of defense). The middle 4 in (4-4-2) represents midfielders and the first 4 represents the back line/defenders. Other formations could be 4-3-3, 3-5-2, 3-4-3. There are many different formations, but you always start with the defenders when using this communication. My point is, no matter what position you play there are going to be times you need to step and cover when defending in soccer.
How these 3 forwards help a team defensively
I wrote a blog post 3 types of forwards coaches want. If I could add one making 4 forwards, it would be a hard nose players who puts pressure on the defenders and knocks them around a little. This makes defenders uncomfortable. Coaches will put this type of forward in if winning towards the end of the game.
Some of the best forwards [first line of defense] are those who work hard to defend. Plus forwards mostly pressure the defenders, who are usually not the best ball handlers on the team. Great opportunity to steal the ball and score more goals.