Coaching Player Development Soccer Drills

Our Favorite Defensive Soccer Drills

Every player is a defender. Cultivate that instinct with amazing defensive soccer drills from our friends at Football DNA.
Trace Best Defensive Drills

by Adam Wood

Writer, researcher and soccer coach. Devotee of The Beautiful Game. Lifelong learner and community-building advocate.

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Defending is an instinct. You have to be a predator, knowing when to bite and when to bide your time. You have to hunt the ball in a pack, moving in perfect sync with your teammates.

But that instinct is still something you have to learn. Defending depends on a set of individual skills that take time and practice to perfect. But it also depends on trust (and communication) between teammates.

All over the field, every player is defending in 1v1 situations, and as part of a larger defensive unit. Every player on every team needs to understand the principles of defending, because every player is a defender. And every player needs to understand their role in the team’s defensive gameplan.

That’s why it’s important for coaches to use the best defensive soccer drills. We’ve included some of our favorites below. Thanks to some amazing content from Football DNA, we’re bringing the best defensive soccer drills, tips and tricks to you, straight from professional coaches!

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Principles of Defending

Before we get into the defensive soccer drills themselves, it’s important that players are familiar with these five basic principles of defending:

  1. Delay: Deciding when to press and when to drop off
  2. Compactness: Distance between teammates 
  3. Depth: The space between defensive lines
  4. Balance: Defensive support, or “cover”
  5. Control: Deciding as a team when and where to press.

This video uses those principles to build a framework for how to defend as a team, and will help coaches teach their players how to make the right defensive decisions.

1v1 Defensive Soccer Drills

There are 1v1 matchups happening all over the field during a soccer game. That means defending 1v1 is a truly essential skill for any player. Thankfully, it’s also an easy one to practice (though certainly not master) with awesome 1v1 defensive soccer drills.

For maximum repetitions, split players into groups of three. Each group plays in a small rectangular playing space. A defender stands at one end, while two attackers face them from the opposite end-line. The attacker “checks” the ball — passing to the defender, who returns the ball — and then dribbles at the defender 1v1. If the defender stops the attacker from reaching their end-line, they win a point. The attacking player immediately turns to receive a pass, the defender joins the attacking line, and the rotation continues. Play for a set amount of time, and the player with the most points wins.

Some quick coaching points for defending 1v1:

  • Stay low (bend your knees!) and defend on your toes. Stay light on your feet, with small steps.
  • Pressure the ball quickly to stop the shot. Then slow down, adopt a strong staggered defensive stance, and prepare to capitalize on a bad touch.
  • Be patient. Your job is not to get scored on — winning the ball comes second.

2v2 Defensive Soccer Drills

Even the best individual defenders can’t do it all. At some point, you will get beat — and you better hope there’s a teammate there to back you up.

These 2v2 defensive soccer drills will help build communication and trust, and teach players how to pressure & cover efficiently.

This video with former West Ham United player Jack Collison walks through a drill that teaches players to pressure the ball from the right angle of approach, cover for teammates and read the play effectively.

This drill from former Peterborough United head coach Darren Ferguson is a natural evolution. It uses exciting 2v2 goalscoring situations to promote effective transitions between defense and attack. Both of these drills can also easily translate to 3v3 or 4v4 situations, to help players become comfortable as part of larger defensive units.

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Defensive Soccer Drills for Pressing

Pressing the ball is a great way for teams to play fun, fast-paced soccer. The idea is to win the ball as quickly as possible, as high up the field as possible.

But when pressing goes wrong, it can be disastrous. That’s why it’s so important to have the entire team on the same page. This article from Football DNA uses the 7v7 format to make the fundamentals easy to understand, and walks through the “pressing triggers” that tell you when to pounce.

Then, use this awesome defensive soccer drill to practice pressing as a team. The example is in a 9v9 format, but can easily be adapted to any number of players. Each team scores by playing the ball into the opposite goalkeeper’s hands — that means the defending team must pressure the ball quickly to prevent conceding goals from easy, lobbed long balls from defenders.


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