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Coaching Soccer: Defenders Can Win Games Too
Winning a game of soccer is all about scoring more goals than the opposition. Defenders can win a game for your team in another way…by helping you concede more goals than the team you’re playing against.
If you look at any league table in the world, you’ll see that the team with the smallest are best goals against average. This is an important statistic because a team with low goals against average will likely have great defenders. It’s not just attackers who can be creative; it’s just that when defenders do their job well you don’t often see it. However, when a defender makes a mistake it’s clear for all to see.
Even attackers need to have the basic skills of defending. All good teams “defend from the front.” This means that when they lose the ball, teams must work to get players between their own goal and the ball. So, your team’s attackers are also your first line of defense. It doesn’t matter where you play on the field, you have to be a good defender with fine-tuned skills of tackling, marking, and passing. Youth players may not be great at any of these skills yet but, when coaching soccer, if you introduce them to your players they’ll likely improve over time.
Defenders come in all shapes and sizes. They’re not all very tall players with super-strong legs. Of course, height and bulk help if you’re playing in a central defensive position, but if you can think ahead and try to interpret what the opposition will do, using your mind is much more of an asset than an appropriate body type.
Defenders must be able to head the ball against taller opponents. Many games have been saved by accurate timing of a header by a smaller defender against a taller one. A great defender has the ability to “read” the game. This is the most important characteristic. Other ways defenders have won games are by being calm under pressure, having confidence, and being decisive.
Defenders don’t always get the credit they deserve but they do get the complaints when the ball ends up in their net. As a youth coach, tell your players that every position is important. Goal scorers may get the glory, but it’s important to recognize defensive players who do a good job. Youth players, no matter where they play, want and need to know that they are doing well.
Younger players have a mentality where they think that scoring goals is the most important part of the game and the goal scorers are the best players. As a person coaching soccer, let your team know that is definitely not the case all of the time. An attacker may have a great ability to collect a ball, turn, and score, but may also be terrible at reading an offensive player barreling towards his own goal with the ball.
Keep your players happy by recognizing all of them and telling them that yes, the players that score the goals will get more attention from people outside of the team. Inside of the team unit, however, all players are equal and it’s often the defenders that are the game savers.