Teaching Group Defending Principles while Developing Anaerobic Capacity

By Justin Cresser

In today’s activity we work on teaching the principles of group defending (Pressure, Cover and Balance) while working on anaerobic conditioning.

Divide your players into groups of three and pair two groups together. Set up a playing area that is 15 yards long and 20 yards wide for each set of 6 players. Have the players of one group stand at both corners and the centre of the touch line at the top of the playing area. (These players are not allowed to move or enter the playing grid) Instruct the players of the second group to stand opposite to the players of the first group on the bottom touch line (These are your defenders). The defender in the centre of the bottom touch line should have a ball (Figure 1).

Play is initiated by the defender with ball playing a pass into the feet of the centre player at the top touch line. This defender immediately pressures the player who receives the pass, while the other two defenders move into covering positions (Figure 2).

The player who receives the ball must take a touch and then pass it to the player to their left or right. In this example, he has passed it to the player on his right (Figure 3 below). When this happens, the covering defender on the left becomes the first defender and immediately applies pressure on the ball. The center defender drops back into a covering position and the defender on the right provides balance (Figure 3).

The player (at top left corner) who receives the ball must take a touch and can then pass back to the centre player, or switch it to the player at the far right corner. In this example, they have switched it to the player at the other corner. The defender on the right now becomes the first defender and applies pressure, while the centre and left defender move into positions to provide cover and balance respectively (Figure 4).

Continue this activity for 60 to 90 seconds, rest for one minute, and then have the two groups switch roles. Have each group perform 4 or 5 repetitions of defending. This activity should last approximately 15 to 20 minutes and teaches the basic principles of pressure, cover and balance. It also emphasizes anaerobic conditioning.

There is no tackling involved. This activity is working strictly on the positioning of the three defenders based on where the ball is. The defenders are not allowed to leave the playing area and the players passing the ball are not allowed to enter. In addition, the players passing must take two touches.

Coaching Points

  • When applying pressure, the defender must take get there as quickly as possible using fast and powerful steps, and then slow themselves as they approach the player with the ball
  • Defenders must also move as quickly as possible, using appropriate foot work (backpedals or side-to side shuffles), when recovering from a pressuring position (middle defender in figure 3)
  • Defenders should have good body orientation (for example, side-on position and low centre of gravity for first/pressuring defenders)
  • Defenders must adjust their positions AS the ball is played, not after the player receives the ball
  • Encourage the players passing the ball to take their first touch and move the ball quickly and encourage the defenders to work as hard as possible while switching defensive positioning

You can progress into a 4 v 4 (plus keepers) small-sided game focusing on defensive shape and movement (Figure 5).

Justin Cresser - Has coached soccer at various levels both in North America and abroad (Hong Kong and Africa). His most recent position was as the Assistant Technical Director at the Soccer Club of Toronto. He has his National Diploma from the NSCAA and is also a certified strength and conditioning coach.

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