1. Zonal defending
The theory behind these tactics for defending corners is that there are a number of key areas (zones) that goals are scored from at corner kicks.
These are the front and back post and about six yards out from the center of the goal line (the middle of the six yard box). You can probably think of other areas too.
With zonal marking you assign key players to these zones. You might want to get your two tallest players to cover the six yard box and put your smallest players on the posts.
The main drawback to this system – at least as far as youth soccer is concerned – is that it encourages static defending. Children told to guard a single point on the pitch will do it but are often reluctant to move away from their area, even if there is clear and imminent danger in another, unguarded, area.
The advantage of zonal marking is that you can make sure your best defenders are stationed in the areas that you know most goals are scored from.
2. Man marking
Man marking is the traditional method of defending corners. A big advantage of man marking over zonal defence is that being told to stay with a player is easier for children to understand than being told ‘I want you to defend this zone’.
The main drawback of man (or woman:) marking is that children are easily distracted, lose their mark and end up doing nothing in non-vital areas of the pitch.
So you see there are advantages and disadvantages to both defending tactics. My teams man mark at corners.
Should we put a player on the goalposts?
The purpose of “marking” the goal posts is to make the goal smaller. This is a sensible move when playing 11-a-side as the goalkeeper can’t reach both posts from the middle of the goal. But in youth football the goals are small and putting players on the posts is a waste of resources.
In any case, your goalkeeper should be intercepting any ball that comes into the “hot area” just in front of the goal and the sooner they learn to do that, the better.
A good way to practise this is to use two goals, one in a normal position and the second touching the far post and at right angles to it. The goal should look like the letter ‘L’.
Now take some corners. The goalkeeper has to protect both goals and is encouraged to come off their line to get the ball.
Use a “blocker”
Putting one of your taller players on the line between the goal and the corner flag will often put the player taking the corner kick off their job completely. They should also be able to block any low, fast corners that are directed straight at your goal.
Don’t forget the short corner!
A short corner – where the ball is passed to a player standing close to the corner flag who either plays it back to the corner taker or crosses/shoots themselves – is a very effective tactic in youth soccer and your defenders need to stay alert to the threat posed by them.
If an opposition player runs to receive a short corner, your players need to close them down quickly. This may mean leaving players unmarked in the box but it’s essential that the short corner is neutralised.
Leave at least one player upfield
It’s important to have at least one player (and preferably two) waiting upfield to receive the ball from your defenders. If you get everyone back to defend the corner, counter attacking becomes virtually impossible.
How to stop the “duckers” and the “swing and miss”
It’s no use teaching your players how to defend corners if they are afraid or unable to deal with the ball when it comes to them.
Defenders who duck out of the way as a well-taken corner comes across the box are a common sight at U9 and U10 level. They are scared that the ball might hurt them. So you need to show them that the ball (“it’s only a bag of air!”) won’t hurt… providing they use their heads properly.
So as soon as your players are old enough to strike a corner into the box at head height, they need to learn how to head it safely.