12 Essential Soccer Skills for Defenders! (With Drills)

soccer skills for defenders

Defenders are extremely important in soccer! Without having a good one on a team, chances are, the team will be exposed to a ton of scoring opportunities by the opposite one, which could eventually lead to conceding goals and losing games …

… On the other hand, a solid defensive line not only will it protect the net, but also will give the necessary confidence to the strikers to produce more opportunities to score!

In this article, I breakdown 12 Soccer Skills that every defender should have with the necessary drills to practice each one of those skills.

Let’s dive in!

Important Tip: To properly practice those skills, I strongly recommend to use soccer shoes with decent Quality  and reliable Grip to perform at the best of your abilities. You can have a quick look at these quality soccer cleats to get an idea!

1. Overall Strength

Defenders are exposed to numerous duels both on the ground and in the air with opposing players, for which they need strength.

Exercises that you can apply for strength are working out in the gym, push-ups and sit-ups. Extra work in the gym before or after training is very important for the defensive players.

In order to progress in this segment, the player must, in addition to his group training, dedicate himself to work on individual training sessions.

2. Endurance & Stamina

These are the abilities of a player to handle physically demanding efforts during a game, without losing his own fitness.

The player must be able to react and play in the same way and with the same power, from the first to the last minute of the match.

Indeed, defensive players have the heavy task of constantly pressuring their opponents and following them at a different pace rate, which requires great endurance that they must possess.

In the gym, exercises that can be applied are running on a treadmill with or without weights!

Outside the gym, running is a great way, however you should do it by changing the pace! On one half, mark the field at the five yards, the penalty area and the middle of the field.

If you run to those points one by one you should run at the maximum speed, and when you come back to the starting line, you should run at a slow pace.

3. Positioning

This skill is very important for defensive players because any positioning mistake would give the opponent a chance to score!

All the best defenders in the world are great in finding the right position for themselves when the opponent has the ball in their possession.

Proper positioning will allow you to react on time and prevent any serious threat. Every mistake allows the opponent to create a surplus and a chance to score

Here is a drill I suggest for this: In a limited space, practice situations 2 on 2, 3 on 3 or 4 on 4. In these situations, there can often be a crowded atmosphere and communication here is vital.

Players must learn to position themselves in such conditions in a way that will narrow down the options for the players with ball possession and take it away from them.

4. Anticipation

This represents the ability to read an opponent’s game!

This is the main quality that the best defender of all time was known for, I am talking here about the legendary Maldini!

You cannot imagine a good defensive player who does not possess this skill at some capacity. Virgil Van Dyke, for example, who is for many people one of the best defensive player, is known for his anticipation of the game and opponent’s movement.

5. Marking

This simply means the skill of following and covering opposing attackers!

The defense that one team plays can be organized as a zone or a man-to-man defense. In any defense system, each player has his own zone of responsibility.

Defenders must adapt to the opponent’s movement and cover them all the time, without giving them much space to exploit.

The drill that you can apply here is covering an area. Limit the area with cones, which represents the area that the defender must cover, and do not let the ball enter.

The coach or a teammate will randomly kick the ball into the field, and the defender must prevent it from entering the marked area.

You start with a narrow square and then you gradually broaden it. You can also practice man marking, with preventing the ball from getting to the opposing player. The defensive player must follow the player he is marking at literally every step.

6. Tackling

The most important thing to remember about this skill is that when the ball is in the possession of the opponent, the ball should be the target and not the opponent.

You must be careful with tackles, especially with sliding ones, as this can be quite a risky way of getting the ball because of the possibility of getting a yellow card (sometimes red card) or even causing an injury.

The best exercise that can be applied here is a 1 on 1 duel game in a small limited space.

The player should focus on the ball and when the opponent tries to move it, react as quickly as he can to take it away from him.

Timing is very important for this skill. Perfect timing is a key for successful tackles, and this is something you practice in 1 on 1 training sessions.

7. Aggression

In this context, it is not about being violent to others. Instead, it represents the desire to win the ball as soon as possible without causing any foul.

Certainly, the soccer player should not exaggerate in his intention because he can commit a foul that could result in a set piece that will endanger the goal, or in getting a referee’s warning and a disciplinary measure.

Take 4 cones and limit the narrow space. Inside the area there is a player representing the opponent’s attacker.

Outside that field, a defensive player is positioned with the ball. He passes the ball to the attacker and immediately enters the field with the aim of taking the ball from the attacker’s legs as soon as possible.

8. Bravery

It is often said that a quality defender goes with the head where many others have no courage to put their foot!

The courage to enter and win a duel is essential for a defensive player.

They must also be careful with this attribute. Although courage makes them feel more confident in their clash with attackers, they should not exaggerate as this can result in being reckless.

9. Decision Making

This refers to the ability of the defender to make the best decision ‘quickly’ in a given situation!

Soccer tactics cannot predict all situations on the field, so it is up to the player to react in the right way in a given situation. It is especially important for defensive players in a team because any mistake can be fatal.

Limit the space where the defender with a ball is. Outside that field there is a coach with a few more balls.

The coach throws the ball into the field, trying to hit the ball that is in possession of the player inside.

The task of the player in the limited field is to avoid the ball that the coach directs towards him and in a moment, he has to make a decision where to move the ball he has at his feet.

Keep in mind that decision making is a skills that usually only advanced players master … You can learn more about these other soccer skills for advanced players!

10. Passing

Unlike in the past when a defender had the task to only save a goal, in modern soccer he has a very important and active role in the initial creation of his team’s attack!

Their task is to transfer the ball to the midfielders and allow the flow and distribution of the ball to the opponent’s goal.

Use 4 cones to make a square-shaped box. There is one player on each cone!

The players’ task is to pass the ball to each other using both the inside and outside of the foot. The ball goes from one player to another.

Start with two contacts with the ball, then make it more difficult with only one touch pass.

11. Ball control

The player must control the ball at every step. Close ball control is necessary, as this will allow players ensure a better protection from opponents.

Arrange a dozen cones alternately, scattered around.

The player’s task is to control the ball between them with his dominant foot. The exercise can be done using a dominant and later non-dominant foot, as well as just using the inside or outside of the foot.

12. Heading

Defensive players are characterized by duels in the air. This attribute is very important during center shots, corners and other set pieces.

Many teams base the game on high balls and direct the ball in front of the penalty area, where the defenders must react well and eliminate the danger.

Pass 3 cones, where the player is in the middle. In front of him is a coach with the ball in his hands and he throws the ball into the air towards the player who needs to return it with his head.

The player is constantly moving from one cone to the other and must adapt to changing position and hit the ball with his head.

Final Thoughts …

Those skills are the foundation that every soccer defender should have in order to protect his team from potential goal threats!

Some of them could be learned quite quickly, like passing, heading and even endurance. Yet, others might need some time especially decision making, anticipation and positioning.

So, don’t worry if some of those skills do not come naturally at first, over time you will be able to figure all these out through consistency and hard work!

Lastly, you can learn about these fairly easier soccer skills! They are also very useful …

Claressa Cormier

Claressa Cormier has over 15 years of soccer experience between playing the sport at a semi-professional level, following the biggest soccer teams & leagues out there as well as helping beginners to get started on the right foot.

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