What is challenging in football?

Guide All Ages

We explore what challenging is, why it matters and how you can help your team develop this essential skill.


Challenging is about winning the ball from an opponent. This used to be all about players making thunderous tackles and imposing themselves physically to dominate combative situations. Those aspects are still visible, but they’re not as necessary as they used to be.

That doesn’t mean the desire and urgency to win possession has disappeared. It’s just that, as the rules of the game have evolved, challenging has become more technical.


Nowadays, to win the ball successfully – through tackling or intercepting – players must be skilful defenders. To do that, they need to:

  • know how to dominate 1v1s when their opponent has the ball
  • read patterns of play and postural cues to anticipate and intercept
  • understand how to press and cover
  • be able to change speed and direction quickly
  • use their body to manoeuvre opponents off the ball
  • make good contact on the ball at the right time
  • be able to win the ball cleanly and as early as possible.

To see challenging in action, take a look at the video below.

What is challenging in football?


Here are three ideas you can use to help your players develop their challenging skills.

1. Use simple messages

Effective communication can help your team get better at winning possession. For the youngest players, try asking them to steal the ball. This encourages a more skilful approach to tackling – rather than just booting it away. You can also promote scanning, communication and pressing by asking, “are you the best player to go and try to get the ball back?”

Reminding players to make sure they’re not beaten easily will also make them think carefully about how they approach their opponent. Plus, it can foster a determined attitude to defending.

2. Develop the art of defending

Great defenders can read the play. They can see the path of the ball, the movement of the attackers and the space their opponents want to use. This increases their chances of successfully positioning themselves and making an interception.

Intercepting is an art, and it requires players to be adept at each of our core capabilities. To help them do this, provide plenty of opportunities to take part in games. This will encourage them to recognise similar patterns and interpret visual cues from the game – and their opponent.

3. Develop physical literacy

In modern football, attackers can manipulate the ball, change direction quickly and disguise their intentions. So, to stay close to these skilful players, it’s important for defenders to possess great footwork and movement skills.

Tag games are an excellent way to develop this ability. Players will be twisting, turning, stopping and starting to try and outfox their opponent. It’s a fun way to work on agility, balance and coordination skills.

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