Defensive dexterity


Half pitch plus 10 yards


Balls, cones, goals

No. of players


Session time

Defending practices 20mins each, 7v7 game 20mins

This session is about defending, both individually and as a unit. It’s crucial we practise this because we need defenders to recognise when to move forward and challenge an opposing striker, and when to hold back.

The session examines the relationships between defenders, and rehearses players in picking up opponents quickly and effectively. It’s a practice that builds, encouraging players to adapt their understanding to new situations and challenges, as well as refining basic defensive principles including staying on their feet, being aggressive and recovering to good positions.

What do I get the players to do?

8v4 defending

Setting up 8v4 plus a keeper, as shown, the practice beings with a ball on the halfway line. Red defenders must play forwards to any attacker. Now, one blue defender comes forward to engage the red attacker, forcing him to play back to a defender (sideways passes are not allowed). After the pass is returned, blue defenders bounce back into their original positions. Players must stay in the lanes marked out by the cones (1a).


1. A pass is made into the red attacker
2. He is quickly closed down by the blue defender and is forced to lay a pass back to an available defender
3. Blue defenders tuck in to cover, but remain in their lanes
4. When the ball is returned, blues ‘bounce’ back into their start positions

How do I progress the practice?

Now the 8v4 is made ‘free’ – we allow red attackers to turn and attack the goal when they receive the ball, thus creating a 1v1 situation. In addition, blue defenders can now move out of their lanes, assisting each other with the closing down of an opponent (1b).


1. In the progression, the red attacker is now encouraged to turn and attack in a 1v1
2. Blues can now move out of their zones in tucking in and covering for one another
3. As a result, while the red attacker makes it past the pressing defender, other blues now come across to close down the space and block the danger

8v6 defending

We now add blue midfield players, whose job it is to press the four red defenders. Red defenders can now play sideways (2a), but the aim remains to release a pass into an attacker, who then turns and moves towards goal. Blue defenders must engage the red attacker with the intention of winning the ball or forcing a backward pass (2b).


1. Two blue midfielders press the man on the ball
2. A straight pass is not possible so the red defender lays his forward pass to the wing
3. Blue defenders move across, following the ball


1. Red defenders can pass sideways in evading the attentions of the blue midfielders
2. This sideways pass opens up the space for a straight ball through the middle to the red attacker
3. The blue defender is, however, quick to close him down

What are the key things to look out for?

Blue defenders must aim to prevent an opponent from turning. Defenders not engaged with the play tuck in to cover, being aggressive, and staying on their feet at all times. And as soon as a move breaks down, they must recover into their initial defensive positions. Good communication is vital in maintaining organisation.

How do I put this into a game situation?

On a half-pitch, set up a 7v7 small-sided game (plus keepers) with a goal at each end, as shown (3a/3b). Encourage players to play forwards and make sure defenders are ‘bouncing in and bouncing out’ when balls are played into attackers.


• The 7v7 small-sided game gives players the opportunity to put into practice what has been learnt in the early practices. Here, while the blue midfielder isn’t tight enough, the centre-back moves in to close down the threat


• Here, with the ball moved backwards, the other centre-back moves out to cover the man on the ball. The other centre-back ‘bounces’ back with full-backs and midfielders compressing the free space in the middle by moving in

Players should utilise the individual and team/unit defending skills rehearsed in the first two practices, putting them into use in a full game situation


  • Ball movementBall movement
  • Player movementPlayer movement
  • DribbleDribble
  • Optional movementOptional movement