Everyone loves a good striker on their team. But it’s usually a good defender that most soccer coaches struggle to find.
Quite often, the defenders on a team are amateurs just starting to play. Or, they’re the players with weaker game skills but a stronger physique.
And so, it’s not easy for an aspiring soccer player to polish his defensive skills among a pool of newbies.
Most coaches will yell at players to “get goal-side!” or “stay in your zone!” which isn’t elaborate enough to build a defensive mindset altogether.
And we’ll uncover today what these terms mean with some other insights into how you can improve your defensive skills as a soccer player on your own. But, more on the insights later!
For now, let’s go over why learning defensive skills and tactics are important for every player and how to practice these alone, without anyone’s support.
After all, scoring goals will win you matches, but a good defense will win you leagues and cups!
How to Practice Soccer Defense Alone?
A major chunk of your soccer skills comes from the time you invest in training alone.
Whether it’s tapping the ball against a wall or working out the muscles you’ll need the most while playing, the more you sweat alone, the more improvement you see in your game.
And since we’re talking about how to practice soccer defense alone today, we’ll uncover the defensive skills and tactics that are valuable to any player in a soccer game.
Because when you lose possession in a soccer match, even your midfielders and strikers take up a defensive stance.
Every player tries to intercept and regain possession as soon your team loses the ball. And you can do that majorly in two ways, through your skill or a team tactic.
Your individual defensive skills are the cherry and cream of your defending ability!
If you are fluent with ball control and good at reading situations, you’re already one step ahead of the game.
But if you struggle to ignite a defensive spark in your game, the following points might push you in the right direction.
There’re hundreds of soccer cones and training drills for defense, so I’ll leave choosing the right ones out for you. However, here are the skills you should train for when practicing soccer defense alone.
Though some coaches discourage their defenders from tackling their opponents, it’s the best way to pressure the opposing team.
The idea is not to give up tackling altogether but to learn a legal way. Some of the most legendary defenders in soccer are known to be the more aggressive players.
If you’ve seen Ramos, Pepe, Van Dijk, or Robert Huth play, you’ll know they aren’t afraid to get their knees bruised.
A defender whose tackling is on a point will always deter strikers and even force them to make mistakes.
Your soccer performance is as good as your first touch!
As much as it is an ingredient to make up a great striker, it is also a defender’s primary weapon to obstruct passes.
And intercepting your opponents’ passes is the safest way to regain possession. It keeps you clear of contact with other players, which means the lesser risk for bookings.
An exquisite first touch gives you the ball’s control and lets you carry it away from your opponent. You also buy yourself ample time to find the best person to pass on the field.
Example: Inside Trap and Play, Outside Trap and Play, Inside Trap and Outside Play.
Charging runs are a useful defensive tool but are also very hard to perfect.
A smart striker will easily dribble past you if you charge too aggressively by quickly changing direction. And if your charge is too weak, you don’t put any pressure at all on your opponent.
But if you time it perfectly, you force your opponent to make a blunder or move in a direction you want him to. It can either be towards more of your teammates or the edge of the field.
So, learning to charge the right way at your opponent will distinctively improve your defensive ability.
Example: Run Shuffle Run, X-Drill, Pro Agility Shuttle.
Remember how we talked about getting the first touch on the ball being important? Well, this time, it’s aerial!
When you’re defending against a corner kick or a winger trying to curve it just enough to find another striker, you can’t wait for the ball lower or get at a comfortable height for your feet.
And that’s where your aerial touch comes in!
A defender’s shining traits are the ability to head a ball away from your goal or acrobatically obstruct an aerial pass.
And seeing how you often find yourself in such a scenario during a soccer match, you need to perfect your aerial touch and reach for a good defensive play.
Example: 15-yards Head/Volley, 25-yards Head/Volley, 35-yards Head/Volley.
Shield the ball
Shielding the ball is another important skill for a defender to master in soccer.
You don’t always sprint or dribble when you have the ball at your feet. Sometimes you are caught at a corner, while there just isn’t enough time at others.
That’s when you see a player turn their side or back at their opponent and try to push them away with their shoulder or arms.
However, you must take note of how you can’t push a player using your hands or elbows. Your contact against your opponent should strictly be a shoulder-to-shoulder one.
But if you can master shielding the ball correctly, you can force your opponents to kick the ball out of play or to keep them away from the ball even when you’re static.
Example: Practice rolling the ball to a side with your back or side against a wall.
Acing the above-mentioned individual skills will make you a solid defender. But you’ve got to play with ten other players on your team in a live soccer game.
And to step up your defensive skills overall, you need to have a good bit of tactical knowledge too.
Since we’re talking about practicing alone, it’s the best time to jump into the theory of soccer as a sport and analyze tactics, strategies, and statistics.
You can put your YouTube hours to good use here by looking for the various defensive skills and tactics, and learning the right way to execute them.
After which, you can imagine these scenarios in your head while you practice, train, or even lay in your bed at night. And work your way around learning them.
Besides learning how to read tactical maps and studying the other team’s gameplay before every match, here are the most common defensive terms and tactics you should learn!
Zonal marking is the latest defending trend soaring in European and American soccer. While everyone knows what man-marking is, zonal marking is a little more complicated.
Each defender is allotted a playing-zone on the field in such a system and marks any player who enters the zone. This keeps your opponents from swaying you off-position during a game.
In practice, you get four defending zones when playing a standard format. Two for the Central-Back positions, one for the Left-Back and one for the Right-Back.
So, if you’re a left back, you won’t need to make charging runs for the central position. And if your opponent tries to lure you away, you stop covering him as soon as he exits your zone.
The adjacent zone defender (Central Back) will now have the striker on his radar and will cover him instead.
“Staying goal-side” is the second biggest dilemma for new soccer players to understand after the offside rule.
It simply means to have a closer distance to your goal than your opponent at all times. Quite often, when covering an opponent, you tend to leave your spot and idle around.
And in this maneuver of covering your opponent, if you get ahead of your opponent, you lose your leverage of stopping him if he gets the ball.
So, if your coach shouts to get goal-side the next time you play, simply get behind the player you’re covering and get closer to the goal than your opponent.
The Offside Trap
Staying goal-side is important, but there are times when you intentionally have to do the opposite.
The offside trap is a classic defensive masterpiece played by teams of all levels in soccer.
This is especially a creative trap when playing against a team that launches too many through-balls or long-balls to their fast-running strikers.
To set up this trap, all four defenders move up the field together in a line.
And when you see that it’s time for the opposing team to launch a pass, you signal your fellow defenders to quickly move a step further up.
This way, you’ll catch the running-striker offside and will crumble your opponent’s attack before it begins.
Before we start to wind up, let’s not forget workouts and exercises that can help you become a better defender.
As a soccer defender, you need to work out your fast-twitch muscle fibers more than the slow ones. These give you the explosive strength and agility that a good defender needs.
Besides the training you get with your team, you can then hit the gym on your own and become stronger for the next day’s game on your own with the following exercises.
- Transverse Jumps (Agility)
- Lateral Bounding with Load (Strength)
- Prowler Pushes (Strength+Speed)
- Bulgarian Split Squat (Strength)
- Split-Stance Deadlift (Strength)
- Turn+Sprint (Speed+Agility)
If you were wondering how to practice soccer defense alone at the beginning of the article, I hope to have answered that question by now.
But here’s a quick replay!
Practicing your individual defensive skills is the primary objective of your training sessions. Incorporate the cone drills or exercises that improve your first and aerial touch, tackles, and charges.
Test your learning in a live game once you’re at a decent level in these skills. And while you’re at it, incorporate some tactical plays into your game as well, along with the other defenders.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
The Pitch is Ours is a new beginning for me and a stepping stone to prepare before retiring from the professional soccer team. Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!