Training the second defender

Ages: 8+; Equipment: Cones, balls; Players: 4+


Start with some basic ball-control movements, such as toe-taps, interspersed with assorted ball control moves.


Defensively, the main players involved are the First Defender (“Pressure player”) and the backup supporting player (called the Second Defender or the “cover” player). The job of the Cover player is critical to the success of the team from a defensive standpoint. Only when Cover arrives and is in proper backup position is it possible for the Pressure player to move in to win the ball. Why? Because the backup player is available to instantly become the Pressure player if the first player is beaten. Of course, this means that the beaten player must loop around and become the new Cover player, so it is extremely important to work on this transition.

Small Group Work (drill)

To illustrate the concepts of proper cover, put all of the players in a large circle, except for 2 players (coach can be one player for illustration). Outside players try to pass ball around, while pressure player goes in and sets an angle to try to contain, and Cover player moves in to shut off more outlets.

Key coaching points

Cover player must sprint into position with a looping run to the outside of the direction in which the Pressure player is steering the attacker, and then shout “Cover” very loudly once in place, but not before.

Appropriate cover must be a distance of about 6-8 feet.

The outside of the Covering player’s shoulder should be aligned with the inside of the shoulder of the Pressure player so that the attacker sees a wall of two players in his way. Basically, the two defenders are trying to create a funnel that locks the attacker at the touch-line.

Cover player’s stance will be slightly more square, as he must be prepared to leap quickly to outside side if the attacker tries to spin around the outside of the Pressure player.

It is the Pressure player’s job to watch the ball and the Cover player’s job to watch the attacker and to give directions to the Pressure player. After showing the basic principles by using the circle, divide players into groups of 3. Make long/narrow grids (about 10′ by 25′). Put an attacker inside the grid and a defender at both ends, one with a ball. Have the on-ball defender play the ball into the attacker and immediately come in to close him down (he is the Pressure player). Then, have the Cover player (i.e. the defender at the other end) make a looping run to get into position to cover. Do 4 reps with the same player as the Cover player, then switch off.

As soon as he is in position, he must shout “Cover”, which is the Pressure player’s key to start closing down and/or jockeying the player to the nearest touch-line. The Cover player’s job is to give helpful instructions, including “Not yet” or “Don’t dive in” if the attacker hasn’t been pushed close enough to the touch-line to use the touch-line as an extra defender and “Now” or “Take him” when it is time to close in. It also can be useful for the Cover player to shout “Hold Him” or “Contain” as he is making the circle around, so that the Pressure player knows that help is on the way.

Note that the kids seldom talk if they are too busy concentrating on what to do, so you have made progress if you can get them to simply announce “Cover.” Additionally, younger children seldom can learn more than 1-2 things at once, so you will have to judge your group. You may want to just work on the positioning, while leave training on communications for another practice if you are giving them too much to think about. Older players, or ones with more experience, may be able to handle additional training on communications.

As soon as you are getting good positioning and some communication, start working on the recovery process. To work on recovery, tell the Pressure player to dive in just before the Cover player gets into position, which will force the Cover player to become the new Pressure player. The former Pressure player then must make a proper covering run.

Large Group

Play 5v2 keepaway in a narrow grid to encourage use of the touch-lines as an additional defender. Give the defenders a point for every successful steal, and give the attackers a point for 6 consecutive passes. Adjust the size of the grid to keep work-rates high. If the attackers can never be successful, the grid is too narrow while if they always seem to be successful, it is too big. Play to 3 points by either side, and then switch out defenders.


Play 2v2 in a narrow grid with small cone goals at each end, with 2 extra players waiting on the sides. Rotate one fresh player to each side in after 2 minutes; play another 2 minutes; and rotate the resting players in to replace the 2 remaining players. Let the players experiment with providing defensive support versus marking.

Coaching note: You will repeat some variation of this practice several times per year, both to refresh memories and to add additional concepts. You will find further information on fundamentals of 2v2 defensive support elsewhere in the manual .

Defensive Tips For More Advanced Players

  • Speed of movement

Sprint! Be moving a split second after the ball is lost!

  • Angle of run

Run on a curved line that will bring you within a few strides goal-side of your pressure man and then close down on a goal-side line to the ball.

  • How close to get

Close enough to help choke off dangerous passing lanes on your side of the ball. Close enough for the challenger to hear and feel your support. Close enough to apply pressure immediately if the challenger is beaten.

  • Why communication is so important

Your position gives you a wider picture, so you can make better decisions. When the Pressure player knows his support is in place, he can work without seeing you, as long as he hears you. Continue giving encouragement and quick, clear, confident instructions. As a general rule of thumb, say nothing unless you are in position to back it up! Your teammate doesn’t just need support; he needs to KNOW that he has it. If he tackles and is beaten and you’re not in position to cover, you’re both beaten and out of the game until you can recover from behind the ball. Let the Pressure player know when he is Covered. Announce your arrival loud and clear!

  • Giving directions

One of the most common directions that the Cover player will give is “Take him wide” or “Line, line”. This instruction means that the Pressure player is being instructed to steer the attacker towards the nearest touch-line. He does this by showing him more space to the outside. The Cover player will be goal-side of the ball, and also goal-side of the Pressure player, so that he can quickly move to provide Pressure if the attacker manages to cut inside of the Pressure player. He is dropped down about 2 yards, so that he also is available to close down the touch-line run if the attacker accelerates past the Pressure player.

Another popular instruction, used mostly by older players, is “Turn him in”, meaning turn him towards the centre area of the field. If you see you cannot cover effectively if play goes wide, or you realize the defence is being stretched across the field, tell the challenger to show the inside path where cover can more easily be provided and the defence can retain depth and compactness. Take position a few strides closer to goal than the challenger, inside him in the direction you want play to go.

When to encourage the steal

As soon as you have steered the attacker within about 1-2 feet of the touch-line, it is time to consider a counter-attack. In addition, if the attacker appears to be losing courage and is considering turning his back on your group, it is time to shout “Go in!” or “Close” or “Take him”. When your Pressure player is on the counterattack, the Cover player must stay balanced, alert, and ready to close down and pressurize if the tackle fails.

What if the opponent succeeds in making a pass

If the ball carrier manages to make a pass, your response will depend on whether the pass is forward, square or back. With the changed situation, you must decide whether your job is now to pressure, support, track down, mark, or destroy opponent’s support.

Common Mistakes

  • The decision to provide support is made too late.
  • Player doesn’t work hard enough to achieve effective covering position and supports from too far away – which is no support at all.
  • Supporting player doesn’t tell the challenger he is in position, or tells him that he is covered while still too far away.
  • Supporting player doesn’t encourage the challenge.
  • Supporting player doesn’t maintain concentration and fails to react quickly to the play