Grassroots Coaching

Coach defending that one ball that kills your team!

One long pass and the opposition are suddenly straight through and score. It drives football coaches mad.

This situation happens so often at Grassroots and indeed at the highest level. Remember England in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups? 2010, Germany. GK kicks the ball long, Terry misses the header, Upson and Johnson fail to get round on the cover. James the GK does the fandango and we’re 1 – 0 down and we’re on our way home.  2014 v Uruguay. GK kicks the ball long. Gerrard flicks it on and Cahill and Baines fail to get round on the cover. 2 – 1 and we’re going home again! It is so frustrating and also so avoidable with some simple coaching work with your players.

Statistically, the vast majority of goals are scored in the space between the width of the 6 yard box and 20 yards out. For most Grassroots football teams, to play more than 3 passes to get the ball and a player into this area to score, happens rarely and if it does, fair enough to the opposition.

But, one pass or long kick and a runner into this area is easily achieved by any team. A very simple, but effective attacking tactic. Yet, how many times do we see goals scored via this tactic. All the time!

So how can we coach our players to minimise this risk in a game and concede far fewer goals?

When Diego Simeone the Atletico Madrid Coach was asked how his team managed to beat Barcelona so often, his reply was “they control the ball, we control the space”

What does that mean to a football coach? It means that they don’t worry about where the ball is, they worry about where it is going, particularly defending that key space between the width of the 6 yard box and 20 yards out. So they coach players to drop early into that space and therefore control it.

So, how can we do this as grassroots football coaches?

3 key ways.

  1. The players of the defensive and midfield unit of the team forget the ball and narrow and drop centrally so that there are players in and around the key space between the width of the 6 yard box and 20 yards out to defend any ball that goes there.
  2. If then, the ball is passed into this space, there are players in position in this key space who can attack the ball and clear it. Players who cover around for any flick ons and knock downs and for midfield players to be in positions in and around this space to track any runners off the ball and contest and pick up any knock downs on the perimeter of this key area.
  3. If possible, get at least one player effecting or putting some kind of pressure on the player looking to pass the ball the ball. Try and get them think about whether they can make the pass or to make them rush the pass. They pressure player doesn’t necessarily  have to win the ball, just get in a position where the passer sees them, where they can effect the decision of actually making the pass and influence the time the passer has on the ball and therefore the quality and accuracy of the pass.

How you can effectively coach and improve your team defending the one killer ball.

In my view, the best way is in a game. But, give the players in the game a scenario such as “there are 10 minutes left, the score is 0 – 0 and if either team doesn’t score, then you’re both out of the competition and go home”

This will create an environment in the game where the players will start to look to pump the ball forward into this key area and get players running into this key area to try and get on the end of it. Pretty much every team who has ever played and need to score with 10 minutes to go, will start knocking the ball long into this key area.

The coaches observation and therefore ability to help the players defensively now becomes key. Position yourself of the pitch and where you can see all the players. Now don’t watch the ball, anticipate and watch where the ball is going to go and observe how the team react prior to the pass to defend this area and then watch to see how they attack the ball, cover round behind the ball and recover from midfield areas.

coach position 1

Coach observing and helping players with understanding the key defensive triggers that spell danger!

  • Loose, bouncing balls that the opposition are likely to get to first and hook on into this defensive area.
  • The ball is lost or turned over and the opposition now have possession
  • The opposition have controlled possession of the ball.
  • The GK is looking to kick the ball long
  • The body language of the player receiving or who is on the ball – the player who is passing the ball will look like they are going to kick it long, the ball will be in front of them, their body shape will look like they are going to kick it long.
  • Forward players are anticipating the pass and moving and looking to run into this area
  • Your team have attacked and have committed players forward
  • Your defensive players aren’t concentrating or reacting and are spread out with big spaces between them.

Coach defensive reactions to these dangerous defensive triggers

  • Early, clear and loud communication. The GK and other players to shout “drop, drop” before the ball is played.
  • The defensive unit drop and narrow into the danger area early – before it is played.
  • The GK takes a position relevant to the positions of the defensive unit and the ball.
  • The midfield unit also drop and narrow early in front of the defensive unit as they drop early – think of them being linked by a bit of string, they react and drop together.
  • The midfield unit track and runners who look to run past them into the danger area and they also look to get into positions where they can compete, pressure and win any balls that are knocked down backwards in and around the penalty area.

Coach attacking, covering and recovery of the long ball that is played into the danger area

  • Can a player get some kind of pressure on the opposition player passing the long ball into the danger area? Can they effect the quality of the pass?
  • The nearest player to the long ball attacks or pressures it – they communicate their intention
  • The defensive players who do not attack the ball, drop and narrow behind the ball to cover the central area around the goal and be in positions to be first to any missed balls, flick ons or knock downs.
  • The midfield unit track and runners who look to run past them into the danger area and they also look to get into positions where they can compete, pressure and win any balls that are knocked down backwards in and around the penalty area.
  • If the ball is cleared, the team squeeze up and compact play

There are two key players that can really help your team to become better at defending the one danger ball.

  1. The goalkeeper. They can see everything from their position. Whist they are involved in the game, they aren’t immediately attacking. So they should be on the look out for defensive danger. They should be constantly communication with their defenders and the slightest sign of any danger, they should communicate with their defenders to “drop, drop, defend the space”
  2. The second player is the player in pretty much every team that plays at the back. Who possibly doesn’t have the athleticism or ability to become involved in attacks too often, who tends to play a bit deeper than everyone else. Make them the Captain of Defensive Communications. Encourage them to play a huge and important part in the team and to take responsibility for defensive communication. Help them to understand that their role as Captain of Defensive Communications is to communicate, early, loudly and clearly to their team, at the slightest sign of any danger, “drop, drop, defend the space”. You will be amazed how they will cherish this responsibility and how they will save you lots of goals.


Posted in
Assessment UEFA B Defending Defending Tips