No way past!

Objective: To practice individual tackling and defensive skills.

Age group: U7s to U12s.

Set up: Create a 20-yard square with a goal at one end.

Three or four defenders stand next to the goal and three or four attackers stand at the end of the playing area opposite the goal.

How to play: On your signal, a defender passes a ball to one of the attackers. As soon as the attacker touches the ball, the defender runs out quickly and tries to stop the attacker shooting at goal.

  • The defender is awarded a point if he/she successfully tackles the attacker or manages to keep the attacker from shooting for 10 seconds.
  • The attacker gets a point if they can get a shot at goal.
  • Attackers and defenders change places every three or four plays.

Coaching points:

You can either play this as team game and play first team to 10 points wins or set individual targets.

Emphasise the need for defenders to close down attackers quickly and for attackers to shoot as soon as they can.


1. Award two points to defenders who can keep an attacker away from goal for 15 seconds without tackling.

2. If a defender wins the ball, he/she can shoot at goal.

3. Play two attackers against one defender.

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.

How to teach tackling

All your players, including the goalkeeper, need to be good tacklers.

Apart from the fact that your players need to be able to win the ball back from an opponent wherever they are on field, being able to tackle instills confidence in young players.

There’s very little in football as satisfying as taking the ball firmly and cleanly from another player – ask any defender!

Types of tackling

There are three ways to tackle another player:

1. Block tackles – which can be face to face or from the side.

2. Poke tackles.

3. Slide tackles.

How to teach tackling

Before you begin to teach your players how to tackle, it’s worth emphasising that the objective of tackling is to take the ball from an opponent, not to hurt the other player or knock them over.

It’s the ball they’re after, not the player!

When to tackle and when not to

These points should be kept in mind as you teach the techniques described below.

Players in your attacking third of the pitch should try to force a passing error or take the ball from the other team as quickly as possible. Immediate, close pressure on the ball carrier will often achieve this and sometimes there is no need to actually make a tackle at all.

However, if one of your players even has half a chance to make a tackle near to your opponent’s goal they should take it without hesitation.

A defender’s main job is to prevent an opponent from scoring, it is not to win the ball.

With that in mind, a player facing an opponent in their own defensive third should be thinking, “how can I force this player to a place where they can’t shoot?” rather than, “I’m going to tackle this player”.

This is especially true if the defender is 1v1 with the attacker. Many goals are scored by attackers who have been gifted a clear shot by a defender who dives into a tackle before their team mates have got into covering positions.

The face-to-face block tackle – what to tell your players

  • Get close but not too close to your opponent – about two to three feet is ideal.
  • Keep your eye on the ball.
  • If the ball carrier lets the ball get slightly away from him or her, immediately get your non-kicking foot alongside the ball.
  • Lock the ankle of your kicking foot (the foot you’re going to tackle with).
  • Bend your knees slightly to give your body a low centre of gravity – this gives you more power.
  • Now get really close to your opponent and strike the ball firmly.

Most importantly (and this applies to all tackling situations) a player must not go in half heartedly. Good tackling is as much about confidence and controlled aggression as technique.

The block tackle from the side

If your defender is chasing an opponent, he should never attempt a tackle until he is alongside or in front of them – tackling from behind is very dangerous and against the rules.

If your player manages to get alongside their opponent he has two choices:

Keep going and try to guide the other player into a corner or towards the sideline.
Tackle them immediately.

If they must tackle (remember, a defender’s main job is to stop shots, not get the ball), they need to get shoulder-to-shoulder with their opponent then hook their outside foot around and make rapid, firm contact with the ball.

It’s vital that your player tries to stay on his feet during this manoeuvre. Even if he gets a good contact with the ball, it could run loose and the attacker could continue on their run. If your defender is on the ground the race is over!

The poke tackle

The end result of a block tackle is, hopefully, taking possession of the ball away from an opponent. The poke tackle, on the other hand, is an effort to kick the ball away from an opponent. The ball goes out of play or runs loose.

The poke tackle is performed while your player is facing his opponent. It is simply a sudden, firm “poke” at the ball with the front foot.

The slide tackle

Slide tackling is dangerous, both to the the player making the tackle and to the player being tackled.

Many, many players have been seriously injured as a result of badly executed slide tackles or slide tackles carried out correctly on poor surfaces and now FIFA – football’s governing body – is considering banning the slide tackle altogether.

For this reason I do not teach slide tackling to my players and I suggest you don’t either. It is much better to teach them to stay on their feet and not get into the position where they have to make a desperate lunge at the ball that could break a player’s leg.

Bottom line

Teaching the correct tackling technique and helping your players recognise the right time and place to tackle will boost their confidence and, ultimately, help your team score more goals.

Stop the shot

Objective: to encourage your defenders to keep attackers out wide and not dive into the tackle.

Age group: U10 upwards.

Set up: Play this game on half of a small-sided pitch – about 30 yards long by 25 yards wide – with a goal at one end.

Divide your players into two teams: defenders and attackers.

The defenders stand on the end line opposite the goal. The attackers stand on the sidelines.

A goalkeeper is an optional extra.

Tip: if you have more than eight players – four defenders and four attackers – set up two or more playing areas to avoid players getting bored while they’re waiting for their turn.

How to play:

  • A defender starts the game by playing a ball out wide towards a side line. An attacker chases the ball and tries to score.
  • The defender who passed the ball immediately closes down the attacker and tries to keep her away from the goal and near the touchline.
  • Tackling is not allowed.
  • The defender gets a point for her team if she can stop the attacker from getting a shot away for at least 20 seconds.
  • When all the defenders and attackers have played, change the teams round. The team that gets the most defensive points is the winner.

Progression: add a defender who stands in the goalmouth. When the ball is played wide to the attacker, this defender is the first defender, i.e. she must close the attacker down quickly and hold her up until a second defender comes off the end line and gets into a covering position.

You can also add a second attacker who is allowed to come on 10 seconds after the ball is first played.

Points are awarded as above.

Tell your defenders:

“Close down, slow down” – i.e. get there fast but don’t dive in.

“Work together”.

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.

Under arrest

This game is a great way to improve your players’ marking skills.

It also helps your players learn how to get away from a marker and make space for themselves as well reinforcing the need for a good first touch.

Age range: U8s and upwards.

Set-up: two teams of four play in an area 30 yards long by 20 yards wide with a goal at each end.

How to play: outfield players choose (or are assigned) an opponent who they have to mark and who marks them when their team does not have the ball.

Tell your players: they can only be tackled by the player who is marking them and that player is the only player who they can tackle.

This encourages players to find space and pass the ball to a team mate who has managed to get away from their marker.

Play for a set time. Five minutes is probably enough – this is a tiring game, both physically and mentally.

Progression: add a spare player who plays for the team in possession. This further encourages your players to find and use a player who is not being marked.

This game is from Fun Soccer Games for 5 to 8 Year Olds.

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.

Pot black

pot black

Objective: To improve passing and receiving skills, teamwork and defending.

Age Group: U6s to U10s.

Number of players: Twelve (but is easily adapted for larger or smaller squads).

Equipment required: Some flat cones, training vests, one ball.

Set-up: Create a 20×15 yards playing area with six small gaps around the edges (the “pockets”) as shown below.

Split your players into two teams of six.

pot black

How to play: Both teams try to gain possession of the ball and pass it (or shoot) into a pocket.

If a team pots a ball, it keeps possession and tries to score again.

If a player kicks the ball “off the table” or commits a foul, possession goes to the other team.

The first team to score eight (i.e. seven reds and a black) wins the game.

Tip: If your players are finding it difficult to “pot the ball”, make the pockets bigger.

If players find it hard to keep possession long enough to pot a ball, make the playing area bigger.

Progression: Play with two balls.

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.

Knock out soccer

Objective: to practise passing, shooting, defending, switching play, communication and teamwork.

Set-up: create a large, circular playing area. For 10-year-olds, I suggest the circle is about 40 yards across.

Evenly space three or four goals around the edge of the playing area.

Divide your players into teams of three or four. Goalkeepers are optional.

How to play: three or four teams (depending on how many players you have) play football in the playing area.

Each team has one goal to defend and tries to score in all the others.

Each team starts with five “lives”. If they concede a goal, they lose a life.

If they lose all their lives they are out of the game.

Coaching notes: teams that are knocked out should move to another activity. An assistant coach can work with them, perhaps they can have a keepie uppie contest among themselves or they can play a 2v2 match. It doesn’t matter what they do, but don’t let them just stand around.

Teams will often work together to knock out another team and it’s interesting to see who co-operates with who and which group of players become the targets.

Warning: this is an ultra-competitive game and feelings can sometimes run high! But Knock Out Soccer is great fun and it’s a game that my 11-year-olds ask for time and time again.

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.


Objective: To improve attacking and defending skills, both individually and as a unit. To practise overload situations (3v2, 4v3 etc) and improve decision making.

Age group: U10s and upwards.

Difficulty: Easy.

Set-up: Create a suitable size pitch with a goal at each end. For U10s, I would use a 40 yards long by 30 yards wide playing area.

Divide your players into two teams – an attacking team and a defending team.

The attacking team waits on the halfway line of the pitch. The defending team is spread out equally between each goal.

How to play:

  • The attacking team decides which goal to attack how it wants to attack it.
  • If attackers choose to go 1v1 (one attacker v one defender) and succeed in scoring, they get four points.
  • If attackers choose 2v1 (two attackers v one defender), they get three points for a goal.
  • 3v1 is worth two points per goal and 4v1 is worth one point.
  • If a goal is scored, the attackers turn and attack the other goal. If they keep scoring, they keep attacking.
  • If the attackers miss or a defender can win the ball and pass it to you, the attack is over.
  • Play for a set number of attacks and change the teams round. The team with the most points is the winner.


To make the game easier for young players:

  • Play without goalkeepers.
  • Make the goals bigger.
  • Stick to bigger overloads – 3v1 or 5v2 etc.


If the attackers cannot shoot within 30 seconds, allow another defender to join in.

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.

Three games that improve defending skills

Improving your players’ defensive skills is probably the quickest and most “cost effective” way to boost their confidence and improve the performance of the team as a whole.

And it doesn’t have to be boring! The games I’ve described below are simple, effective and fun ways to help your players stop opponents from scoring.

What to say to your players about defending

“You are all defenders”

Older players often have an “I’m an attacker so I don’t have to defend” mentality. You need to counter that by emphasising that every one of your players is a defender when the other team has the ball and encourage your attackers to try to win the ball quickly if they lose possession near to the opponent’s goal.

Tip: Practise “high pressure defending” by playing a small-sided game in which goals count double if they are scored immediately after winning the ball in the attacking half of the pitch.

  • Your main job is to stop attackers shooting – you don’t have to win the ball.
  • If you’re not the closest defender to the ball, make sure you back up the defender who is closest.
  • Stay alert, try to guess what is going to happen next.
  • Direct attackers towards places where they can’t shoot – the touchline is your friend.
  • When you are closing down an attacker, keep your eyes on the ball. Wait for him or her to lose control before you tackle.
  • Be brave! If you have to put your body in the way of a shot, do it.
  • When you have the ball, get your head up and look for a quick pass to a midfield player or forward.
  • Stay on your feet – sliding tackles are a last resort.
  • Don’t hoof the ball upfield all the time, hoping that one of your players will get on the end of it. That’s another last resort!

How to practise defending

1v1 battles

Age range: U6s and upwards.

Set-up: Divide your players into pairs, one ball per pair.

Each pair plays in a seven-yard square playing area with a cone goal in the centre.

How to play: Players start by standing at opposite ends of the playing area.

One player is the defender, the other is an attacker.
The defender passes the ball to the attacker through the cone goal.
As soon as the attacker touches the ball, the defender closes her down as quickly as possible and tries to stop her from scoring a goal.
If she can succeed for 20 seconds, she earns a point.

After three rounds, players switch roles.

After three more rounds, players face a new opponent.

Coaching points for the defender: Try to steer attacker away from the goal, only tackle when you are sure to win it, stay between the attacker and the goal.

Hit the Target

Age range: U9s and upwards.

Set-up: Create a circle 50 yards in diameter. Inside this circle there is another circle of cones 10 yards across.

Split your players into a team of six attackers, a team of three defenders plus one target player.
The target player goes into the centre circle and the two teams play 6v3 in the outer circle.
Attackers earn a point if they can get a pass to the target player.
Defenders earn a point if they win the ball or for every 30 seconds the attackers fail to score.

Note: The defending team can run across the inner circle but can only intercept passes in the outer circle. The attacking team must stay in the outer circle.

To play this game with younger players: Instead of having one target player in a centre circle, you, or an assistant, is the target and moves freely among the players.


Age range: U7s and upwards.

Set-up: Create two adjacent 20-yard square playing areas.

Divide your players into two teams of four or five.

All players are allocated a number (1-4 or 1-5).

One team per playing area.

One ball per team.

How to play

  • Each team moves around its playing area, passing and dribbling the ball.
  • You shout a number and players with that number run into the other team’s playing area and try to win the ball.
  • If either player can win the ball and knock it out of the playing area within 20 seconds, they win a point for their team.
  • If they can win the ball and dribble it back to their own playing area, their team gets three points.

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.