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How to Defend in Soccer - The Complete Guide

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

A guide on how to defend in soccer. Man with foot on the ball in training.

In this guide, I'll share some tips for how to defend in soccer.

Let’s get started!

What is Defending

Defending is the art of stopping the other team from scoring a goal. Every player needs this core skill.

While there are some positions in soccer that primarily defend, all 11 positions defend as part of the game.

This is because soccer consists of two main parts: defending and attacking.

You need both to be successful.

You’ve probably heard of the saying that “Defense wins championships.”

There is a lot of truth to that.

Good defending leads to good attacking, and ultimately to winning more games on the field.

Now that we’ve covered some of the basics, let's move on to the next section.

What Positions Focus on Defense Primarily

As I said before, all 11 positions take part in defending. However, there are some positions on the field that defense is their primary role.

These include:

  • Goalkeeper

  • Center Back

  • Center Defender

  • Sweeper

  • Right Back

  • Right Defender

  • Wing Back

  • Left Back

  • Left Defender

  • Holding Center Midfielder

  • Defensive Midfielder

Each position has a different role depending on the formation, the coach, and a variety of factors.

In general, the goalkeeper and center defenders are the organizers and the last line of defense.

The right/left defenders also act as a last line, but they focus more on keeping wide players from coming into the center.

The midfielders are to defend the middle and act as a help and support to the backline.

When the defenders and entire team defend as a unit, they become more effective.

You can accomplish this by clear expectations and good communication.

You should be talking constantly with your teammates and helping each other to win the game.

On most teams, you will rotate into different positions during the game to cover if another defender gets beat.

No matter what position or formation you play, the important thing is stop the other team from scoring.

You will make mistakes from time to time. However, good teams know how to defend and can recover quickly when necessary.

In the next section, I’ll cover some important skills for defenders.

What Are Some Important Skills for Defenders?

All defenders need to have some skills in order to succeed.

Defends need to be strong, smart, and patient.

1. Be strong

In order to succeed as a defender, you need to be strong physically and mentally. Do what you can to increase you physical strength.

Things like weight lifting, push-ups, sit-up, etc.

This will help you to body up with your opponents and leverage your physical strength to stop the opposing team.

You also need to be mentally strong. This has do with things like how you handle pressure, confidence, self-esteem, recovery after a mistake, etc.

Increasing your mental fitness is just like increasing your physical fitness.

You can do this by utilizing positive affirmations, creating routines, or visualization. Use your mind to control your thoughts and your actions on the field.

One of my favorite affirmations is, “I am strong and skilled on the field”.

You can come up with unlimited variations to suit your needs. Just make sure it’s positive and in the present tense. Then read these affirmations often and repeat them during the match.

It will boost your confidence a lot.

Don’t focus so much on the outcome of the match. Focus more on what you want to accomplish and on playing strong for 90 minutes.

2. Be smart

Defenders need to be smart. They need to read the game well and position themselves accordingly. One of the best ways to learn more about soccer is watch it.

If you can watch a full match or go to live game, you can learn a lot from watching the pros.

Watch how they move, how they position, how they react, how they tackle.

You also want to be smart when defending 1v1.

The best way to win these situations is to watch the ball, not the player. The ball is what matters and you will win more situations if you keep your eyes on the ball.

Another great tip for being smart is when in doubt, clear it out. If you’re not sure what to do, clear the ball as high, wide, and away from goal as you can.

3. Be patient

If you want to be a great defender, you will have to be patient.

This is particularly true when defending someone who likes to dribble.

Remember, you don’t always have to win the ball to be a great defender. Sometimes the best thing you do is just stay in front of the other player and slow them down until your teammates can recover.

If you are not patient and dive in too quickly, that is how goals happen. It only takes a split second for someone to dribble past you when you overcommit.

Don’t do it!

Just be patient and apply enough pressure, but not too much.

If you can master these three skills, you will be well on your way to becoming a great defender.

What to Do When You Lose the Ball

When you lose the ball, the best thing you can do is try to win it back...right away!

Your best chance to regain possession is five seconds after losing it.

If you give up or complain when you lose the ball, you’re just wasting time.

Instead of focusing on your mistake, defend immediately. You will be surprised with how often you regain possession.

Who Are Some Pros You Can Emulate

Watching the pros is a great way to get better at defending.

Below is a solid list of defenders in the game.

Watch some of their highlights/matches on YouTube to see what you can learn! They all have different strengths that you can add to your game.

How to Position Yourself as a Defender

Positioning yourself correctly as a defender is critical. It all boils down to one main principle...

Stay between the opponent and the goal AT ALL TIMES.

You don't always have to win the ball to be a good defender. Sometimes delaying or redirecting is all you need in order to stop the opposing team.

Delaying also gives you or your teammates an opportunity to read and intercept passes.

I'll cover this more in the next section.

How to Intercept a Pass

When an opposing player is looking to make a pass, the last place they look before they put their head down is most likely where the ball is going to go.

To intercept the pass, watch the last place they look and then block the passing lane.

Be careful not to over commit as some players know how to disguise their passes.

You can still keep yourself in a good position while anticipating where the next pass will go.

This will take some practice but test it out next time you play. Watch the other player's eyes and you'll notice they frequently look right where they are going to pass.

In time this will become a habit and even second nature. You'll know when to intercept the pass and when to stay put.

Intercepting a pass is also a great way to take advantage of the other teams' mistakes.

If they pass the ball too weak or not right to the other player, you can step in and win the ball if you're in a good position.

How to Tackle

When you want to make a tackle (not just poke the ball away), the best way to do it is with your back foot or foot furthest from the ball.

You use the back foot because you have more momentum.

This allows you to win the ball in higher percentages than you would otherwise.

When you tackle, you want to make sure you lock your ankle and commit 100%. If you don't, you may get injured or may not have enough strength to win the ball.

If you are looking to poke the ball away rather than tackle, your closest foot is the best option.

It can react faster and should be closest to the defender if you stand on a bit of an angle.

This leads us into our next section about using your body effectively.

How to Use Your Body Effectively

The best way to knock someone off balance is to bump or nudge them at the waist level.

It can still be done at the shoulder level but it’s way less effective. Take a look at the image below.

If you can knock an opposing player off balance, you have a better chance of stealing the ball.

Image of soccer defending

It will also allow you to body up with players much larger and stronger.

You want to make sure you put your arm out directly to your side. This will give you the most leverage and help you to control the situation better.

How to Defend a 2v1

There will be times that you will be outnumbered as a defender. It happens every game.

So how do you defend these situations?

The best thing to do when you are outnumbered is to cut off the pass.

If you cut off the pass, you essentially take away the number advantage of the other team.

You do this by positioning yourself to cut off the passing angle.

Remember, you always have the keeper behind you who acts as another line of defense.

By cutting off the pass you are also helping them to focus in on the sole attacker with the ball.

Push An Attacker to Their Weak Foot


I hope you enjoyed this new guide to defending.

Now I'd love to hear from you! Which tip are you going to try first? Are you going to try to intercept more passes?

Or maybe you'll start bodying up at the waist level.

Let me know by leaving a comment below!

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