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tackling drills

When defense is discussed it is often in the context of the team.  Yes,  the defensive system  employed  by  a  coach and the tackling drills 

 whether a  man- to-man  or zone,  is  important,  but  what is  as important and often overlooked  is the individual technical and tactical defensive abilities of the individual players.

All coaches want players who are aggressive on defense, but if this aggressiveness is not tempered with sound technical skills and tactical   decisions, the aggressiveness can lead to breakdowns in the team defense. Common individual mistakes include a player overrunning an attacker rather than closing down and containing, players not tackling at the proper moment, or a player reverting to slide tackling in the open field as a first resort rather than a last resort.

The   following   is a practical   session that addresses the individual tackling drills, closing down, and containing from the front and back as well as exercises that incorporate these skills into a team’s defense.





Warm-up Exercise

Organization: Two players to a ball on either the end line or sideline.

The warm-up will serve two purposes: preparing the player both mentally and physically for the session. The players will be introduced to tackling, closing down, containing while also getting their bodies acclimated to the physical demands of the session.

To begin the warm-up, Player A1 passes to Player B1 and closes down on Player B1.  Player B1 dribbles at A1 who backpedals, keeping the ball and Player B1 in front until they get back to the line. The players then switch roles. Several pairs of players may be executing the same exercise at the same time.

Player B1 should not be concerned in beating player A1 with a penetrating dribble at this point. The attacker is helping with the defensive warm-up.

Although it is still the warm-up, the coach should stress to the defender the importance of moving quickly after playing the ball, but slowing down as  they  get  closer to  Player   B.  Young players especially have the tendency to overrun the attacking player.

In the second stage of the warm-up, Player A plays the ball between Player B’s legs. As Player B chases the ball down, Player A closes down and prevents Player B from turning.

Again, even though a warm-up, the coach should stress the importance to Player   A of keeping about an arm’s length distance between themselves and Player B.

In the final stage of the warm-up the two players will work on block and poke tackling. Each player will stand about a foot from the ball. On the coach’s command, both players will plant their left foot and follow through with their right foot to execute a block tackle. A second exercise is to reverse the roles of the feet.

Next, the players will be on angle to the ball. On command they will use the toe of the front foot to knock the ball past the other player.

Fundamental Stage

Organization: Four cone goals are set up on each side of a 20 x 20 grid. Four lines of players are positioned as shown in Diagram 3A. In stage one of the fundamental stage, Player A1 passes to B1 and closes down from the front.tackling drills B1 now attempts to beat A1 with the dribble and go to goal. When either a tackle is executed or a goal is scored, Player C1 plays to D1. At the conclusion of the drill players A and B switch, as do players in lines C and D.

A key coaching point should be the importance of the defender closing down quickly but slowing the approach as they near the attacker. The defender should begin with long strides to cover long distance, but as they near the opponent,tackling drills small steps should be employed to slow down and to be ready to defend. The defender wants to transform the attacker into a ball watcher.  When an attacker’s head is looking down at the ball, they cannot see teammates who may be open or who have potentially better scoring opportunities.

When slowed and in a position to pressure the attacker, the defender should adopt a sideways 2 stance. This is done for several reasons.

First, for proper block tackling one foot must be planted for the follow-through foot to make contact on the middle of the ball. With one foot in front of the other, the plant foot is set. The motion needed includes starting with a low center of gravity and following through with the other foot. If the feet were set side by side, it would take two motions, first planting the foot and following through, to execute the block tackle.

Second, the player is in proper position to execute a poke tackle. The defender can use the toe of the front foot to knock the ball from the attacker.

If the defender attempts the poke, they must be able to recover if the poke is unsuccessful.

Third, if the defender is beaten, they need only to turn 90 degrees rather than 180 degrees to make a recovery run.

Finally, the defender can channel the attacker to a second defender or toward the sidelines, which in essence is a defender itself. This makes the attacker predictable in regard to the direction they are moving.

The main object is delaying. In a game situation, if the defender on the ball is able to delay the attack, it allows teammates to

Apply pressure to the attacker from the rear and also allows teammates to organize a collective defensive effort behind the defender on the ball.

Another important coaching point at this stage is the decision when to tackle. The player should be within one step of reaching the ball, and should tackle the instant the attacker last touch the ball. Even with good tackling technique, a poor decision on when to tackle can lead to a team breakdown.

The second stage involves A1 playing the ball to B1. B2 follows B1 and must prevent B1 from turning and scoring (Diagram 3B). After play is finished with either a goal by B1 or a tackle by B2, A1 moves to the B line, B1 moves to the A line and B2 becomes B1 and will play  the ball to A2, who will come to meet the ball and be challenged by A3. The C and D lines follow the same progression.

An important coaching point here is the necessity of the defender keeping the attacker’s back to the goal and their head looking down at the ball. When an attacker’s back is to the goal, their view and options are limited to the back view. When their head is down, they cannot utilize other forward, more penetrating and dangerous options.

A defender should prevent the attacker from turning and wait for the attacker to make a mistake. The defender should keep an arm’s length so if the attacker turns; the defender is in a position to block tackle.  By being too close, the defender runs the risk of fouling or over- committing and allowing the attacker to move into open space with the dribble or to flick the ball behind to penetrate.

Stage three calls for a 1 on 2 situations. The tactics of individual defending now are combined with the concept of cover and balance. A1 passes the ball to B1 and A1 and A2 go to defend (Diagram3C). A1 is the first defender, but A2 should be in a support position with proper angle and distance. The angle should be 45 degrees on the side A1 to which is channeling the attacker. This position is taken so A2 can be in position to tackle or close down if A1 is beaten.tackling drills By being too close, A2 could be beaten at the same time as A1. If too far, A2 might not be able to make up the ground necessary to tackle or close down the dribbler.

The fourth and final stage calls for a 2 v. 2 situations. Again, balance and cover are emphasized. In this case, A2 is still in a support position, but also must be concerned with a second attacker, B2. If B1 does play the ball to B2, A2 must close down to become first defender, while A1 adjusts and gets into a support position with proper angle and distance while still focusing on B1, who is now without ball.

After the A-B teams conclude their exercise, the C-D groups play.   This gives   each group a chance to reorganize and creates a good playing rhythm.

Focus Stage

Organization: Split the full field into two halves. Put four sets of five-yard goals (here use the flat, platter-like cones) on each half of the field. There are eight players in each half of the field, each with one ball as shown in Diagram 4.

In this functional training game each player has the primary responsibility of defending their own goal and player, but should also be concerned with providing cover for teammates.

Important coaching points in this stage again include the necessity of applying pressure on the ball and the importance of being  in a position  both in  angle  and  in  distance  to assist a fellow defender if is beaten by the attacker.tackling drills  The  defender on the  ball  should apply pressure so that the attacker becomes a  ball  watcher,  and  the  other  defenders should  still be conscious of their player and goal, but also of assisting in providing cover.

An easy way to emphasize the concept is to refer to it as “squeezing centrally behind the ball.” An attacker who is beaten should always  have  a  backup,  a  covering  player in  position  to  step  up.  If  the  ball  is  on the  opposite  side  of the  field,  a  defender can  afford to  move centrally  behind  their teammates. If the ball is played long across, the  defender has time  to  adjust  and  step up  to  apply  pressure on  the  ball  while teammates make the adjustments to squeeze centrally behind them.

Technical/Tactical Training Session

Organization: Move goals to penalty spot to have field 96 x 60. Eight field players to a side in a 3-3-2 alignment plus a goalkeeper, as shown in Diagram 5.

The technical and tactical skills presented in the earlier stages of the workout are now incorporated into match-like conditions.

The object of the game is for a team to chip a ball to the opposing goalkeeper. A point is awarded if this is executed. The defensive team must apply pressure on the ball at all times to prevent an attacker from having the time to lift the ball towards goal or change field. All principles of tackling, closing down and cover and balance are incorporated in the exercise.

This stage offers an opportunity for a coach to address players’ tendencies to slide tackle. A slide tackle should be a last resort. With a slide tackle, the player is committing   their whole body. tackling drills A slide tackle should only be used if the defender knows they have support or the play is near a sideline or end line. If neither is the case and the attacker beats the tackle, they can attack without pressure.  A slide tackle, although effective, should not be used in every tackling situation. It must be used with discretion.

Match Conditions

Goals are moved back to the end line and a full scrimmage   is played   with no restrictions. Defensive principles are still emphasized in the scrimmage. Play should be stopped if a teachable moment occurs. Since the theme of the session

Is defense, if an individual defense lapse occurs the coach should address it and not write it off as a good play on the part of the attacker?


Individuals make up a collective defensive effort.  An individual   breakdown can and in most cases will lead to a collective team breakdown.   Some coaches may have the tendency to focus on offensive concepts and neglect the defense. This will catch up with the team in the long run.

Ample practice time should be spent on proper technical skills and tactical decisions as regards tackling drills. Good, hard and clean block tackles are key to strong collective defending. Proper technique, along with good judgment in regard to when to tackle, will make a team a strong defensive unit. The time spent on tackling will be worthwhile, for in the end it will be the team that benefits.


Find Out More:

Teaching soccer game sense

Sliding tackle



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