Soccer coaching tips for defending corners

Many youth soccer coaches get very nervous when their team concedes a corner.

They know that in a few seconds time the ball will be whizzing across the box and their defenders will either (a) duck out of the way or (b) swing a foot at the ball and miss it. And no one will be marking the opposition striker who calmly taps the ball into the back of the net.

But there is plenty you can do – even with the youngest players – to reduce your stress levels when the ref points to the corner.

First of all, you need to decide if you want your team to mark the opposition man to man (sorry girls) or defend zonally, that is, ignore the opposition and put your players into key parts of the penalty area.

Zonal defending

Most teams that use zonal defending split the penalty area into several areas: the near post, the middle of the six yard box, the far post and two or three areas between the six yard box and the edge of the penalty area.

The theory is that these are the areas where most goals are scored from following a corner and if you can control these areas you will stop the opposition from scoring.

This may work with older, confident players but, in my experience, it's not a good method to use with young players. Man-to-man marking works better and it's a lot easier to explain.

Man-to-man marking

To man mark effectively, your players need to make sure they pick up one opposition player each... and stay with them. This requires good communication between the defending players and the person in charge – your goalkeeper.

The goalkeeper needs to understand that it's part of their job to organise the outfield players at corners. They should tell them who to mark, "Lucy, get the number 7, Ami get the number 9", and watch out for opposition players who try to creep into the box unobserved.

I tell my players they must keep their backsides facing our goal and they must not take their eyes off the player they are marking. They need to keep within two feet of their mark at all times and ALWAYS stay between the striker and our goal.

The worst mistake a defender can make at a corner is to let the player they are marking get away or get ahead of them.

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.