Having already explained the Principles of Attack in a previous post, let's now take a look at the Principles that govern Defending. It is my firm belief that the 'ART' of Defending has now been forgotten and lost within our current National Curriculum and a generation of young players are missing out on learning an important part of their football education. In the modern game of football ALL players need to have the ability and potential to dominate all 1 v 1 situations across the soccer ground from the point of Attacking and Defending Principles.

So , while we wait for additions to be made to the current curriculum, here are guidelines I encourage all coaches working with young players to attempt to address in sessions during training.

The Art of coaching is how best to implement these messages via interesting and competitive activities but the Science of Defending is as follows.


All players out of possession, or as our National Curriculum states, BPO, should obey the following under these headings


DELAY- 1st Defender

The first defender( nearest player goal side to the opponent with the ball- some exceptions) should attempt to

a) Win the ball/ delay penetration/ denies the use of quick forward play

b) Stops/ delays the opponent playing the ball forward

c) Denies opponent working space by pressuring quickly, while the ball is still moving

d) Shows the opponent, with the ball, the way to go- dictates play- makes play predictable

e) Tackles when there is support/ when the opponent loses control or when unable to pass to other players

f) Stays on feet- do not go to ground-balanced and focused on the ball

g) Never gets caught with having to turn a 180 degrees( some exceptions) keep saying-"where's the player, where's the ball". Ensure a good position to see both.

h) Looks to pressurise the opponent  at the moment the opponent receives the ball

DEPTH/ SUPPORT- 2nd Defender

The 2nd Defender/ Supporting Defenders( other players close to the ball) helps the 1st Defender by

a) Covering and Supporting QUICKLY taking into consideration distance and angle of support

b) May have to mark opponents/ support players and/ or cover space

c) 1st Defender shows the covering defenders where to cover by his/her body shape/ position

d) Supporting defenders communicate with the 1st Defender and each other, when cover is on, when to tackle, etc

e) Are always looking to apply pressure to the next player that is able to receive the ball

f) Are always looking to apply double marking pressure to the player on the ball


The 3rd Defenders( other defenders away from the immediate playing area) helps the team by

a) Tracking down all opponents that make forward runs towards goal

b) Allow no opponents to get goal side- UNLESS executing the offside tactic and letting them go into an offside position

c) Always prepared to balance the defence- taking up a position denying space that can be utilised by the opposition

d) Are always prepared  to become a 1st Defender or supporting defender( 2nd) INSTANTLY

e) Are always scanning/ communicating/ observing players AND the ball- Body position

f) Are never spectators- Spectators sit in the stands!!!!!

g) Always are looking for interceptions

h) Are always looking to apply pressure to the next player that is able to receive the ball

i) Apply tight marking to the player who can score with their first touch


Although these principles have a set system and structure, over the years and with the modification of styles of play and philosophies, their interpretation can be modified to suit the individual strengths of players within a particular team. For example, the Argentina U20 Youth Squad that won consecutive World Youth Championships, played a high press system that had players working on 1st Defending without support or 2nd Defending, having confidence that players WOULD and COULD be successful in all 1 v 1 battles. In other words, the coach will use the principles of both ATTACKING and DEFENDING to devise a system that suits HIS or HER team. That is what coaching is all about!!!

Once you have understood the Principles then go and devise a style of play that suits your philosophy and players at your disposal. Good Luck.