How to Improve Your Defending Skills in Soccer?

Your defenders must minimize their mistakes when attempting to win the ball from your opponent. Minor mistakes from your defenders can lead to chances, goals, or the loss of a key duel on the pitch. Thus, a defender must strive to improve their defending skills in soccer.

How do you improve your defending skills in soccer?

Anticipation, tackling, intercepting, and marking are key skills to master. Each of these skills should be practiced in a variety of formats.

There are additional defending skills such as blocking, screening, forcing errors, cover shadows, and physicality. Practicing these skills alongside the skills previously mentioned will help players to become the best defenders they can be.

The article will discuss each skill and present the best formats to use to develop them. The practice formats are a start point from which coaches can build their drills to develop defending skills needed to play soccer.

Defending Skills in Soccer Part 1

The first batch of skills is I feel that every player needs to develop to some degree. The players do not have to be experts at each one but they should try to master one of them as their main method of winning back the ball.

Defending skills in soccerWhat does the skill look like?Practice formats
AnticipationPredicting events before they occuroverload practices such as 1v2, 2v3, 2v4, 3v5,
TacklingEngage an opponent and use the foot to legally take the ball awayDirectional 1v1 practices in tight spaces (facing, sides, behind)
Intercepting Getting possession of the ball following an attempted pass or shot from a player2v2 target games where teams have to go from one target to another
MarkingA tactic to stop an opponent from making or receiving a pass or being involved in a goal-scoring chanceSmall-sided games where you are matched up player for player

Defending Skills in Soccer Part 2

The second set of skills is tactical-based and usually involves reading the game situation before deciding to implement them. These skills are usually used when a player or team is outnumbered and they are trying to equal up the numbers or make play predictable.

Defending skills in soccerWhat does the skill look like?Practice formats
BlockingWhen a player gets their body between the ball and the opponent, this could be holding onto a player or being in the way of a passOverloaded possession practices such as 4v2, 5v3, 6v4
ScreeningScreening is a blocking move by a defender in which they stand in the way of the ball to prevent a forward passThree team games where attackers have to play through a central zone
Forcing errorsPutting pressure on the ball to win it back off of the opposition. By forcing the opposition to make a mistakeTransition games where players have to react to wins and losses of possession
Cover shadowsWhen a player positions himself between the ball carrier and an open man, he covers the latter in his imaginary shadowDirectional three team games where players naturally have to get between the ball and a free player
Physicality They are physical abilities that individual soccer players can use to compete in the game1v1 up to 4v4 practices will allow players to work on using their physicalities to dominate a duel

Defending Skills In Soccer Players Explained?

Anticipation is about reading a situation before it has occurred. Defenders should use visual cues to anticipate what a player might do. For example, observing the head and body of an attacker can often reveal their intentions. Head down tells you they want to hold onto the ball, head up suggests a pass is imminent.

Tackling is about timing and picking the right time to win back the ball. different types of tackle can be used to win the ball back. Block tackles are good when you have a 50/50 chance. A toe-in tackle is useful when you have a head start on the defender and you can knick the ball away with your toes. A slide tackle could be used when the attacker is ahead of you and you have one chance to get the ball.

Interceptions are also about timing. The defender must anticipate the pass and pick the correct moment to jump in front of their opponent to take the ball cleanly. Ideally, you want to be traveling forwards with the ball and limiting the opponent’s chance of winning it back.

Marking, players need to make an early decision on what to mark, is it a player? or is it a space? Defenders should cover the most hurtful or dangerous option. They should be alert, on their toes, and ready to change direction at any point to close a space or get tighter to an opponent.

Defending Skills in Soccer Continued

Blocking, This skill is about selection, do you need to block the player or a space? It requires aggressive movements in and around the ball to stop and delay an opponent’s progress. Blocking requires contact, the player needs to brace their bodies to either be hit by the ball or tussle with an opponent.

Screening, This skill requires scanning and fast footwork using different shifting movements to prevent passes beyond you. Forwards, backward, and lateral movements are key effective screening. The player must do two jobs, identify the space or player they need to screen, then execute the movement to prevent a pass.

Forcing errors, This skill requires a willingness to run and not always win the ball. Forcing errors is about hurrying the decision-making process until the opposition messes up. This gives you a chance to take the ball in a favorable position while the opponent is out of shape and defensively disorganized.

Cover shadows, This skill is usually required for attackers and midfielders. They use it to cover two players in one action. A player’s cover shadow means the ball carrier cannot go through so they must go over or around. In these moments play becomes predictable or slower so your teammates have a chance to win the ball on the next attacking action.


This is an interesting topic because every player is unique in terms of what they can offer physically. A coach should help their players to identify their best physical attributes and then match them up to methods of winning back the ball.

Coaches often have a preconceived opinion that every defender must be able to dominate their opponent physically through strong tackles, throwing opponents around and big powerful actions. The reality is that this is limited to a small number of players within each squad.

Different Types of Defenders

Quick agile players who cover the ground fast often do not need to make tackles. They can force errors, use their cover shadows, and mark. Each of these strategies requires minimal physical contact. The key message to the player is that they have found a way to be an effective defender without necessarily having to be something they are not.

Small powerful players can step into and across runs to sweep the ball away. They can block the attacker’s runs or they can use toe-in-type tackles to stab the ball away from opponents. These are different methods from the agile player.

Intelligent players can be effective defensively by anticipating their opponent’s actions and using interceptions and screening to steal the ball or delay the attack. They can also use marking to stop their immediate opponent from being an option or threat. Limited physical contact is required just a willingness to read and react to the game moments.

Defending Skills in Soccer Drills

Below are a few practices that will help players to work on a variety of the skills mentioned above. The coach needs to help the players to experiment with different ways of being effective defenders.

Drill 1

HOW THE DRILL WORKS: This 2v2 drill plus (2) targets is a simple drill that allows players lots of opportunities to practice marking, tackling, blocking, and screening. The two targets are fixed behind the dashed line. They help the team in possession keep the ball. The ball must be received in each half before it can be played to the opposite target.

The reds and blacks compete for possession. Each team scores a point for successfully navigating from one target to the other. The team with the highest score after a set period wins the round. Play 3-6 rounds. This will allow each team to play once or twice.

To progress or adapt the practice you can place different conditions on the practice. For example, you cannot pass back to a target until the opposite target has touched the ball. This means once a target has passed into the practice the attacking team must combine to find a way to play forwards. They no longer have the back pass option.

Drill 2

HOW IT WORKS: This three-team practice is excellent for working on screening, blocking, cover shadows, and forcing errors. The pitch is set up and sectioned as shown by the diagram above. There is a 2v2 in each half and the cones represent offside lines.

The yellow target players have duel purposes. Two yellows are placed in the outer zones and two yellows are positioned inside the inner zones. The outer yellows act like goalkeepers that can only use their feet. They help their team to keep the ball and they defend the endzone if it is being attacked.

The yellows in the central zone only play for the team with the ball, joining the attack once the ball has been set back to them by an attacker.

The team in possession must play off a central yellow before being allowed to pass into their teammates in the other half. The receiving teammates in the attacking half must set the ball to another central yellow who can then join the practice to help the attacking team score. The attacking team can dribble or pass beyond the endzone to score.

The outer yellow player being attacked is fixed into that zone. They can screen the endzone by blocking space and intercepting passes or dribbles. If they win the ball they help their team build an attack in the other direction.

Drill 3

HOW IT WORKS: This is predominately a pressing and closing down drill designed to improve blocking, screening, cover shadows, and forcing errors. The drill could also become a protecting the goal drill as well. This practice works best if it’s performed around the box.

The reds are the pressing team and the blacks are trying to play out under pressure into the mini-goals. The practice builds up from a 1v1 through to a 4v4. It is a four-ball game. The players stay on the field for each ball until the 4v4 is finished. At this point, the practice resets back to 1v1. For realism, you can get the reds to recover to the 18-yard line between balls to ensure the pressing element remains consistent.

Ball 1

Red player 1 starts the practice by passing into the black fullback (3). The players play 1v1 with the red trying to score past the goalkeeper and the black trying to score in the single mini goal on the left side of the diagram.

Ball 2

The next red (2) passes the ball to the black central defender (5). Red (1) and (2) then play against blacks (3) and (5). The game is played up to the dashed red line. The reds try to win the ball and score in the big goal and the blacks try to score in the central or the left mini-goal.

Ball 3

The next attack comes from a red player (3) they pass the ball to a black central defender (6) and the game now becomes a 3v3 in the full playing area. Red (1,2,3) versus blacks (3,5,6). The full area is now in play. The reds win the ball and score in the large goals and the blacks score in any of the three mini-goals.

Ball 4

The final ball before the game resets is a 4v4. Red (4) passes into the black player (2) and a 4v4 commences in the full playing area. Reds are trying to win the ball and score and the blacks are trying to play out into the 3 mini-goals.

Game Resets

The game resets and starts on the other side of the playing area. So Red (4) starts a 1v1 against black (2) and the game continues. This time the players use the blue dashed line for the 2v2. The blacks scored in the mini goal to the right of the diagram and the central one. Once the game becomes 3v3 the full box opens up.

In Summary

The article has summarised several defending skills in soccer. As coaches, you need to use the information provided and apply it in the correct context to the players you work with. Every player has a preferred method of winning back the ball. Be careful not to force players into a method that just does not work for them.

Observation skills will be vital to coaches because they need to look closely at the players and help them to pick the best best of winning back the ball at the right time. The coach must also help the player to establish their physical qualities and how they can be best used by the player to defend effectively.

The practices present a few ideas that I feel will provide repetition and realism of defending skills. The drills can be adapted in terms of size or complexity to suit the age and ability of the players you are working with.

Frequent Questions

How do you defend in soccer? There are specific stages to defending, the approach, and the players need to close down and slow down. The second stage is the preparation stage where the defender uses the correct footwork and body position to slow the attacker down. The final stage is the showdown where the defender tries to win back the ball using a tackle, block, or interception.

What are the 5 principles of defending in soccer?

1. Nearest player get pressure on the ball

2. The next layer of players covers the pressing player (ready to press if needed)

3. Balance is needed from surrounding players (marking space and key players)

4. Compactness is required to deny time and space to the attackers

5. Control and Restraint are the final principles, players must manage their aggression and not be beaten too easily by the attackers

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