Introducing defending

Guide 5 - 11

During the Foundation Phase, players will be introduced to a variety of new skills and ideas. Whilst, at this age, attention will mostly be around ball mastery, it’s also a good time to provide them with some key messages to shape their view of defending.
After all, the England DNA stresses the need for players to be able to regain possession intelligently, so it’s important to help develop their understanding of defending as well as their decision-making skills.The priority in the Foundation Phase is around individual ball work such as dribbling, turning and shielding, but once opponents are introduced, there will also be a chance to improve each player’s ability to both defend the ball and take the ball off someone else.

When your youngest players first realise that someone from the other team will be trying to take the ball off them, and that they can take the ball off the other team, you may see players:

  • grabbing with their hands for their opponent or the ball
  • falling over or fouling
  • aimlessly kicking the ball away
  • avoiding the ball or any physical contact.

DNA Key message

Defending is our way of getting the ball back quickly and saying that it belongs to our team


So what messages can you send out and what do your youngest players need to be introduced to in order to begin the long journey towards becoming an effective defender? Here are some very simple things you can introduce straight away:

  • Let the players know that kicking the ball out of play or aimlessly up field should be a last resort. Avoid applauding this kind of behaviour where possible.
  • Encourage players to try something when they gain possession.
  • Send out a strong message that you want to get the ball in order for your team to play and attack.
  • Encourage defenders to join in attacks when they can and to be composed, patient and intelligent in their play from a very early age.
  • Avoid labelling children as defenders – no one knows with any confidence who will play in that position later on.
DNA Key message

Defending is what we do whilst we’re waiting to attack and score


You may have your own way of ‘selling’ this part of the game to your young players, for example by saying “let’s be good at setting traps” or “let’s try to pinch the ball and counter attack”.

However you introduce defending, you must ask your players to consider the following points right from the start:

  • Be patient when defending 1v1. Try to gain control of the situation even though you’re the player without the ball.
  • Develop good movements and use of the whole body so that you’re difficult to beat.
  • Get good at knowing when to cleanly win the ball.
  • Be composed once you have the ball.
  • Develop a determination that no one will ever beat you.

The attitude of your youngest players towards defending can be influenced and shaped by the clear and consistent messages they receive at the start of their football journey. 

As the coach you must be patient and supportive. For many of your young players it’s difficult for them to effectively take the ball off others. They need lots of practice with clear and simple advice.

To learn more about Foundation Phase DNA, click here.

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