Developing defenders’ confidence

This is a defensive session that takes the form of three different practices. Each one progresses from the last in terms of how defenders are being asked to cope with ever-changing threats, both in terms of additional attacking players and a wider physical area of responsibility.

We build this into what, by the end, has become a variable, competitive, match-realistic practice, and one that players enjoy for its versatility.

And although this is a defensive session, it’s hugely relevant for attackers as well, since at every step we’re inviting them to concentrate on the instructions defenders are given, and to formulate their own their own ways of countering those tactics.


Up to a half-pitch
Balls, cones, goals
Number of Players
Full squad
Session time
Grid game 15mins,
Channels practice 30mins,
Halfway attacks 30mins

What do I get the players to do?

For each game, attackers rotate on every attack, while defenders rotate after three attacks.

Grid game

Setting up as shown, attackers and defenders are fixed in 30×10-yard directional channels. The coach serves the ball in to any attackers. The defender in that channel must close him down quickly (1a), and attackers can pass left and right. If the defender allows the attacker past, there is the threat of a shot into an unguarded goal. If the defender wins possession, he must work the ball back to the coach (1b).


• In the Grid game, the ball is served by the coach into the attacker. The defender must quickly close him down in that channel


• The attacker switches play to the left, and the defender successfully hustles his man, winning the ball and feeding possession back to the coach

To progress, we remove the grid and play a standard 3v3 in the same area with central goals (2).


• In the progression, removing the grid lines and placing a solitary goal at each end creates a fluid 3v3 game

What are the key things to look out for?

Defenders must be balanced, and cannot ‘fish’ for the ball – i.e. there is no need to rush into a tackle when the task is to hold up the attacking wave.

They must reorganise quickly and support when attackers pass left and right.

Attackers must look for the correct angle of approach, using their feet quickly either to pass left and right or to take on a defender.

Channels game

Now we set up four channels that converge in on the edge of the penalty box. Attackers begin with their backs to goal. The coach instructs the server to send in a diagonal pass (3).


• In the Channels game, the coach instructs the attacker in channel B to begin, and he feeds the ball diagonally into a team mate who has his back to goal

Attackers can now interchange between channels, although each channel must always be occupied. Should an attacker penetrate the box, defenders support and cover in behind, with all players allowed to retreat once the defensive line has been breached. A defender winning possession must feed to any player at the foot of the area.

How do I progress the session?

To progress, take up the inside cones to create a 2v2 in the middle (4a), then remove the remaining inner cones to enable a 4v4 across the full width (4b).


• In the progression, the removal of the middle line of cones creates a 2v2 attack in the centre


• Progressing again, further removal of cones means defenders must now patrol the free movement of all four attackers across the playing area

What are the key things to look out for?

Removing lines of cones will make the attacking area more fluid, so defenders must approach the game with balance and vision, adapting to the changing conditions.

Halfway attacks

Setting up as shown, the coach calls the letter of one of the ‘start’ stations. The man and ball from that station, plus three other attackers (one from each station), move forward in a standard 4v4 attack (5).


• In the first part of Halfway attacks, defenders and attackers go 4v4 across the full width of the pitch

How do I progress the session?

An extra attacker can now emerge from two of the stations to produce a 6v4 attack (6a).


• In the progression – which is a 6v4 – two extra men emerge from the stations to aid the attack

And as a final progression, we position two centre-forwards in front of the defensive line. Either will receive the first pass from a station, so the session is completed by playing out an 8v4 overload (6b).


• And in the final progression – an 8v4 attack – two centre-forwards begin with their backs to the defensive line, with one player receiving the ball in order to start the move.

What are the key things to look out for?

With the playing parameters constant, here we’re coaching defenders on how to work against changing numbers of attackers.

With the 6v4 they must stay close and rehearse ‘back to goal’ defending. And in the 8v4, the extra men can emerge from any of the stations, so defenders must be alert to the threat of an attack from any side.

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