Grassroots Coaching

How to coach defensive compactness as a team in a small sided game

The following article demonstrates coaching defensive tactics that could be employed by a team that are winning a match and want to get players behind the ball and force the opposition to play through them. Or by a team that are facing opposition who are better than they are. They are not the only defensive tactics that can be used by a team. A team would generally use more than one defensive tactic.

The defensive tactic outlined could be applied from 5 a side to 11 a side.


Start by defending from the front

Initially structure the coaching, so that the defending starts from the front, then move onto coach the midfield, then the defensive unit and goalkeeper. Finally, let the game flow so the coach can observe whether the team are doing the jobs they have been coached to do, as individuals, as units and as a team.

As soon as possession is lost to the opposition in their defensive half, the team look to get behind the ball, get a defensive shape, which is narrow and compact and allows players to adopt positions in relation to where the ball is.

Defending starts from the front. So when the ball was in possession of the opposition defense, we coached our two strikers, to get them to understand how to react quickly when the ball was lost, to recover behind the ball and to work and defend as a pair. They needed to recognise if the player on the ball had good possession, then there was no point in trying to pressure the ball as they would easily be passed by. Their roles were to try and stop the ball behind passed forward into key central attacking areas and to try and force play across the pitch and to keep the ball in front of them. They had to work as a pair communicate and react together as the ball was passed across them.

 Progress to coach the midfield

Once the strikers understood this initial role, we progress onto coach the midfield. They had to communicate and encourage the strikers, move as the strikers moved and ensure that if the ball was played into the opposition midfield players, they were in a position to apply good pressure and get tight, with the second midfield player providing cover.  They also needed to understand that they also had to adopt positions that made it difficult for the ball to be passed into the opposition’s strikers and to track any runs from the opposition midfield players.

The forwards now had to link with the midfield, so that if any pass went past the forwards, they turned, recovered and applied pressure from the front.

Defensive unit

The coaching now moves onto the  defending unit and the GK. The first thing to observe is their positions as a unit and individuals in relation to where the ball was and how they reacted and moved as the ball moved. Encourage the defensive unit to move and communicate together as a unit and ensure that there were no big gaps between them and that they were in a position goal side of the strikers so that if any ball was passed over the top or past them, they put themselves in a position to win any race and that they kept their shape and discipline. The GK also plays  a very important part of this defensive unit, communicating and positioning themselves in relation to their defenders and the ball.

Any time the ball was played forward into the defensive unit, make sure  that one of the defenders applies pressure on the ball and the other two dropped and provided cover

This was then linked to the midfield, so that whenever the ball was played forward towards the opposition forwards, there was pressure and cover from the defenders and recovery runs from the midfield and forwards, to be first to any knockdowns.



The game was then allowed to flow and the coach should observe the play and watch the whole team to see if they were applying and working towards what they had been coached. As the game progresses encourage the team  to compact play as the ball is  played forwards or sideways by the opposition.

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