shielding the ball
Ages: 8+; Equipment:
Cones, balls; Players: 4+
Do some basic ball control moves, along with your
stretches. Introduce rolls, pullbacks, and circle turns, if you have not
done so, as these techniques will be used in this session. Then, to fully
warm up the players, put the players in pairs so that their arms are
linked and they are leaning against one another, and have them try to roll
the ball around with their outside foot. Have pairs switch sides
periodically, so that they can work with both feet. Have a "sack-race"
kind of activity, where the pairs try to walk/hop from one line to
another, while controlling the ball with the outside foot. Have one race
going forward; one going backward; and two going sideways (left-to-right
One of the first skills which young players will need is
the ability to shield the ball in order to keep a nearby opponent from
stealing it. Confidence in the ability to shield the ball is critical to
later success as a player - because a player who does not believe that he
can hang onto the ball usually will get his head down, get flustered, and
just blindly kick the ball away ("hot potato" clearance).
When should you shield the ball?
Common reasons to decide to shield the ball instead of
trying to take the defender on by dribbling are that your opponent is
bigger/faster or there is so much traffic past him that it doesn't make
sense to keep going ahead (so you need to stop and find one of your
team-mates who is facing less traffic) or you are in your defensive third
where it is too risky to dribble when you could lose possession.
How do you shield the ball?
By using various techniques to put your body between the
opponent and the ball, so that you can gain time to give the ball to a
team-mate or take advantage of a mistake by the defender to get past him.
What are the basic rules of shielding?
The first rule of shielding is to avoid turning your
back on the incoming defender if at all possible. It is much harder to
hang onto the ball if you cannot see what your opponent is doing - so try
to keep one shoulder pointed at the defender at all times. About the only
time that you want to turn your back on an opponent is when you know that
you have back support and you will be able to play the ball back to a
team-mate very quickly.
The second rule of shielding is to take control of the
situation yourself. If the opponent is coming in hard, it is generally a
good idea to be the one to make the first contact.
The third rule of shielding is to be aggressive in
holding onto the ball. It is okay in soccer to use your arms, shoulders,
body and legs to keep an opponent from getting the ball (you just cannot
push with your hands or kick/push with your feet), so don't be afraid to
hold your ground or to use your body to push the opponent away.
There are four basic shielding moves which you will
cover in this session. They are the simple step across; the roll; the
pull-back; and the circle turn (Note: younger players may have trouble
with the circle turn, but it is a good idea to introduce it anyway - and,
for older players, it may be possible to add pull-back/taps behind the
support leg and the stepover).
Put the players into pairs, and put each pair in a
long/narrow grid with one ball (one player on one end and one at the
other). The player with the ball will serve the ball to the other player,
then act as the defender. This same grid will be used to teach each of
these moves. Put the spare ball at one end of the grid.
This is the most basic shielding move - but is amazingly
useful. The player simply steps over the ball to put either one or both
legs between the ball and an incoming opponent.
There is a trick to it, however. In stepping across the
ball, the player usually wants to end up being positioned to face the
direction where there is the best chance of finding support players (i.e.,
toward the open field- not the touchline). In general, the only time that
you want to turn towards the touchline is when it makes sense to kick the
ball off of the opponent's shin guards to get a throw-in.
Obviously, the direction that the player will end up
facing will depend on which foot is used to lead off. Let's say that the
open field is to his left. He will want to step across the ball in the
direction of the defender, starting with his right foot - and then lifting
his left foot so that it rests on the ball or comes over beside his right
foot. Some coaches recommend that the player get in the habit of swinging
the lead foot around the face of the ball, instead of stepping directly
over the ball, so that the ball is shielded at all times. However, this
may be an extra complication for young players (who can get confused with
multiple decision), so you can leave this for later if it seems like a
After learning the basic step across, the player needs
to know when/how to use the move. However, give the players some time to
experiment on actually doing the move before you get into this.
Put two players at opposite ends of a small grid. Have
one player pass to the other player, then walk towards the receiver to
start shutting him down. Have the receiver step across the ball to put
himself between the opponent and the ball - and end up with his back foot
(the foot farthest from the opponent) resting on top of the ball. Once
they have this basic idea down - and have learned the mechanics, it is
time for the next step - which is to make actual contact with the
The basic shielding posture is:
- Knees bent and bottom down to lower centre of
- Body in a fencer's or boxer's stance (turned sideways
with weight balanced on both feet);
- Arm/elbow of side which will make contact tucked well
in to protect ribs;
- Other arm spread out for balance;
- Time the step-across so that shoulder aggressively
makes contact with opponent (bump him slightly), transferring weight to
front foot so that back foot is free to pass/control ball.
Now, return to the grid and allow players to practice
making the shoulder-to-shoulder contact (or getting their shoulder into
the opponent's chest, depending on the angle). The idea is to aggressively
hold the opponent on one shoulder while you get your head up to find a
team-mate to give the ball to. In the warm-up, the players experimented
with moving the ball while leaning into the partner, so they should have
some ideas of their own which they should be allowed to explore.
When in the basic shielding position, the ball is moved
around either with the side of the foot or the sole of the free foot. The
way to move it with the sole of the foot is by rolling the ball back and
forth, periodically putting the foot down to movement of the plant foot.
There is a knack to doing this successfully, which is
only gained by practice. Allow the players some time to work on this in
the grid - and also suggest to players that they can work on this at home
by pushing one shoulder against a wall, and simply rolling the ball back
and forth to move in a circular fashion. After some experimentation, play
a game where the defender gets 1 point if he can steal the ball or kick it
away before the count of 5, while the attacker gets 1 point if he can hold
the ball to the count of 5. Increase the holding time to 7 or 9 as you get
The pullback move is used when an opponent is coming in
so quickly that it will be hard to step across the ball in time to shield
it, so the ball is basically snatched to one side using the sole of the
foot. Once the ball is snatched back, the basic shielding posture is used
to lean into the opponent - but the player will need to be more braced for
the contact, as he likely will not have time to initiate the contact
After illustrating this move, have the receiver move up
into the middle of the grid (which will reduce the time needed for the
server to get to him), and work on using the pull-back to get ready to
shield the ball. Play the same game of points for holding the ball or
There are two types of circle turns - one by using the
inside of the foot and one by using the outside of the foot. The latter is
the one which is most commonly used - although both can be practiced. In
an outside circle turn, the foot used to turn the ball is cocked outwards
and somewhat back, and the ball is tapped 3-4 times to allow the player to
make a complete circle.
Usually, a circle turn will be used in a pressure
situation to spin off of an opponent and explode away on the last tap.
Therefore, when practicing circle turns, add an explosion to the last tap
so that the ball is pulled with the foot in the new direction. Note that
it is fine to do partial circles (and, in games, most "circle" turns
actually are about _ of a full circle). The key to using circle turns well
is to be able to look up as the taps are being made, so that the ball can
be laid off to a team-mate if close support is available - as the ball
almost always should be laid off in such situations, since the natural
position of the first player will serve to obstruct the opponent. When you
observe a player actively obstructing the opponent, however, you need to
bring up the difference between just holding your ground (which is legal)
and active movement to prevent the opponent from getting to your team-mate
with the ball (which is a foul).
Return to the same grid to work on the circle turn. Put
the receiver on the back end line (to give him more time to control the
ball once received, and allow him to initiate the circle turn as soon as
the opponent gets within contact range. Instruct the server to act more
like a shadow, just slightly crowding the receiver from the rear as he
makes the circle - but not really make an effort to steal the ball.
Remember: you are just introducing the idea of this move at this stage.
Young players are unlikely to be able to execute this move under full
pressure until they have spent more time working on dribbling (especially
on explosions), so simply encourage effort.
Small Group Work
Split up every other pair, so that you now have 3
players in a grid. Leave the server at one end, put the receiver in the
middle, and put the other player on the far end of the grid (he will serve
as the support player). Then, serve the ball into the receiver; allow the
defender to close him down; and, as soon as the defender is on him, have
the support player start counting slowly to X (which is the amount of time
that most of your players could successfully hold off an opponent by
shielding). Once the count is reached, the support player then can move in
to accept a drop pass and the team then can try to dribble across the
opponent's end line.
After 3 tries, swap out roles. Then, play a game of 2v1
- encouraging the inside player to hold the ball and wait for support
unless the defender makes a clear goof which will allow him to get by.
Station a line of players at the midline, and a line of
players on both sides of the goal. When you serve a ball into the middle,
the first players on the goal line can start for the ball. The midline
player starts after the count of 3 and acts as a support player for
whichever goal line player wins possession. The player who wins possession
may try to score himself, or can hold the ball and lay the ball off for
the incomer (going 2v1). Defender scores by dispossession, and attackers
score by getting a goal. You will want this game to move quickly, so use
two goals if you have more than 9 players, as you don't want more than 2-3
in line. Have players move to a different station after their turn.
You can play a regular scrimmage, or can continue to
play with lopsided teams (creating various restrictions to provide for
arrival of late support). Regardless of your decision, praise all efforts
to shield the ball and look for support. Encourage team-mates to talk to
one another, and to call for the ball if available. Remind them that, when
under heavy pressure, players may be afraid to look up - so they will need
to YELL and get close to offer any meaningful help.
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