Whilst the priority in the Foundation Phase, and particularly for your youngest players, is mastery of the ball and their individual ability on it, focus can still be placed upon the defensive side of the game through carefully structured practices.
If you want to introduce some defensive ideas for your Foundation Phase players, you should prioritise working on this when they’re in the ‘first defender’ role. A player at any age or at any level who can apply good first pressure, and is rarely beaten easily, is going to be able to impact the game.
Once they improve in this area, an understanding of their role in supporting the ‘first defender’, is the next step. This may follow during the later stages of the Foundation Phase, or earlier if the player shows an understanding and a desire to progress.
Reinforcing “being difficult to beat” and “winning the ball cleanly” may sound restrictive and very basic – but it’s the opposite. These two things will be the building blocks for everything defensively that follows, so prioritise them in an enjoyable and age-appropriate way.
It’s important to be patient because these two things will involve:
- having the ability to accelerate and decelerate effectively
- knowing how close to get to gain control in a 1v1 situation and how to use their body effectively in these situations
- being good at recognising when they have the upper hand and can force a mistake or a change-over in possession because of the pressure they’ve applied
- knowing where to stand to help a teammate who has got to the player first and that their role is then to provide defensive cover.
Whilst there’ll be lots of other things to add, the basics need to be addressed. The bottom line for players progressing into the Youth Development Phase is that they have really good understanding and technique when in a 1v1 situation.
Another technique to introduce your players to is the importance of recovering quickly and helping the team to get the ball back. You need to find enjoyable ways to do this so that practice is motivating, intense and replicates the game.
Your young players will come with lots of energy, so engage them fully and show them that getting the ball back can be fun, enjoyable and a way to start attacks and score goals.
- Continue to introduce defending in an enjoyable way – attack and score when you get the ball, give a real purpose for getting the ball.
- Play lots of small-sided games to practise winning the ball cleanly - some of these will include larger numbers so cover and balance can be mentioned.
- Notice when players are difficult to beat, are brave and never give up – there will be lots of physical mismatches, but this doesn’t mean they can’t be a great defender.
- Recognise good supporting positions and drip this aspect in slowly over time.
- Allow lots of self-expression when the ball is won.
To learn more about Foundation Phase DNA, click here.