Developing Defenders with Patience

By Sean Pearson

Session Length: 90 mins

A lot of sessions focus on defending when players are dribbling the ball towards the defenders. I can’t remember seeing a session that focuses on defending players with their back to goal. This is an extremely important part of defending, because if done right will frustrate the opposition, slow down the opposition’s attacks and make them predictable. A lot of what I will cover will be counter intuitive to your players as they will want to lunge, kick and pursue the ball but is important not to let them do any of this and to be patient to know when and where they can win the ball.

Warm-Up Time: 10 mins

To warm up the specific muscles used heavily in defending, group players into pairs one with a ball one.

  • Players with the ball dribble around the area with their partner opposite them, at a sideways angle, ‘defending’ the dibbler.
  • The defender does not aim to stop/win the ball, but maintain their body position, looking at the ball. Mention to the players that this represents being patient and not hurried, trying to lunge for the ball. Switch so both partners attempt both roles twice.
  • Now do the same again but allow the defenders to steal the ball but ONLY if the ball clearly is miss controlled and is nearer them than the dribbler.
  • This works on warming up the body in a specific stance as well as the mind into being patient with decisions which will be crucial in this session.


Technique Time: 15 mins

  • Separate your team in to 3’s. 1 feeder, 1 attacker & 1 defender
  • The feeder stands at one end and a goal is put in the opposite end. In the middle, both attacker and defender face the feeder.
  • The whole aim of this session is stopping the player with the ball turning to either dribble, pass or shoot. The defender’s stand therefore is side on, one arm’s length away from the attacker. Too close and it allows the attacker to spin, too far away and there is no pressure and the attacker can turn. The defender follows that attacker closely always being able to see the ball
  • To help the defender maintain the right distance have them put their arm up and hand against the attacker’s back. It is important not to shove the player. The defender should also be ball side
  • The Feeder passes to the attacker, the defender’s 1st objective is to stop the attacker from turning to score, NOT to win the ball. The attacker has 5 seconds (counted by the feeder) to turn and shoot. If they can’t they must pass back to the feeder and start again. (Give points for passing back otherwise players will shoot at every opportunity). Rotate and repeat 3 times.
  • It is very important the defender does not lunge to win possession and is patient in deciding if & when to tackle. They should only use black tackling and that is if the attack turns to shoot. This will enable the defender to keep their balance and not be beaten by a rash decision to win the ball
  • Next after the feeder passes the ball to the attacker they become a 2nd defender and pressure the defender from the front. This works best when the 1st defender stops the attacker from turning.

Defending2 Defending3

Functional Practice Time: 25 mins

Area: Width of 18, length of the tip of the center circle.

Before progressing to use a whole side of field, use an area that restricts the opposition slightly and helps facilitate your aim for the defenders, which is to frustrate the opposition, slow them down and make their play predictable. Have two channels on each side roughly 8 yards wide where your FBs and the attacker’s WM start. (The WMs must stay in the channels)

Defending formation: 4-2-3-1 Attacking Formation: 4-4-2

(This specific combination of formations will allow more players to practice the defending technique)

Option 1

  • The CBs of the attacking team pass to the CMs
  • The CMs of the defending team stop the player from turning and the AM pressures from the front.



When the defending team wins possession they attack the small goal.

Option 2

  • CBs pass to the WMs in the channel.
  • The FB moves to a position so they will be 1 arm’s length away from the WM when the ball arrives, so they must start to move when the pass is played.
  • The rest of the defense slides over to condense the space, the midfield drops back and the AM comes across.
  • This makes it difficult for the attacking team to progress forwards and makes their next pass very predictable in going back to the CB.



  • When the pass is made back to the CB, you have a choice of what to coach.
  • You can either ask you AM to slide across to stop any penetration forward or you can ask them to block the pass between the CBs to keep the ball on one side of the field, however this can open up a pass to the Striker.


Option 3

  • Have the CMs move wide to allow a greater space between them
  • The CBs then pass through this gap to the strikers
  • The defending CB stops the striker from turning and the rest of the defense groups together to restrict space between them.
  • The CM in front of the striker with the ball becomes the 2nd defender and pressures them from the front.
  • The opposite CM cuts off a diagonal pass across the field to the WM or CM.
  • The AM drops to stop a return pass to the CB.
  • All the positions the defending team now occupy restrict options for the player in possession, slow their decision making down and will force turnovers.


Phase of Play: Making Play Predictable Time: 25 Mins

Take away the restrictions and test your defenders on a field they would play on in a game. Continue to coach the 3 options but add some specific detail.

  • When possible tell the AM to press one side of the CBs to keep the ball on one side of the field.
  • The opposite CM comes across to stop a ball into either the AM or Striker.
  • Now your team know the ball will stay on one side of the field have them look at the speed of the pass to make a decision.
  • If the pass is firm and has pace tell them to stay behind the attacker and aim to stop the turn and slow them down.
  • If the pass is weak, tell them to step forward and anticipate the interception. The attacker will be waiting for the ball, your defenders will be running to the ball, this will give them the momentum advantage to win back possession.
  • Have the defenders counter to one of the 3 goals on the halfway line.
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Scrimmage Time: 15 mins

Reinforce all points throughout the session:

  • 1 arm’s length away, side on, ball side
  • Stop the turn
  • Patience
  • DON’T lunge

By Sean Pearson

By Sean Pearson  Sean is also the author Coaching Team Shape in the 3-3-1, Coaching Team Shape in the 4-2-3-1  and Coaching Team Shape in the 4-3-3

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