Soccer Defender Guide

Defenders are the backbone of a team, possessing the grit needed to do whatever it takes to prevent the other team from scoring.

They usually hang back, protecting the goalie from breakaways and serving as options for midfielders in the defensive half.

Defenders have a hard, often unappreciated job. They need mental toughness, and determination to succeed.

This article will cover the top traits of a good defender and provide some tips to help you succeed at the position.

5 Traits of a Good Soccer Defender

These are the top 5 traits that good defenders possess (in order of importance):

1. Defending Ability

Good defenders know how to defend well (who would have guessed?).

You should be an expert at tackling (without fouling) sticking with your man off the ball, double teaming, delaying, winning headers, defending tactics, etc.

Read our article, How to Defend in Soccer, to improve your skill.

2. Speed

Forwards and midfielders are often fast. You need speed to keep up.

Centerbacks with good positioning and strength can be effective with mediocre speed, but being fast will greatly improve their ability to defend.

Wingbacks need speed or they will get dominated by a fast winger.

3. Strength/Shielding Ability

Strong defenders push offensive players off the ball, win headers, and shield the ball well.

Strength is important for all defenders, but it’s especially important for centerbacks.

Develop strength by lifting weights and eating right. Read our article on How to Shield a Soccer Ball to develop this skill.

4. Heading Ability

Defenders need good heading ability to defend against arial passes, crosses, and set pieces.

Defenders should head the ball far and wide to remove the ball from the defensive half.

Read our article, How To Head a Soccer Ball, to learn good heading technique

5. Passing Ability

Defenders without the ability to pass effectively reduce a team’s possession percentage.

Clearing the ball has it’s place. But defenders should look up and pass the ball when they have time and space.

Good defenders can pass to feet and make effective long passes through the air.

Read our article, How to Pass a Soccer Ball, to improve your passing ability.

7 Soccer Defending Tips

1. Be Aggressive

Good defenders are aggressive. They aren’t afraid to make strong tackles and use their body. They attack balls with their heads and get in front of shots.

Play so aggressive that players are scared to receive the ball. You want the opposition to fear you.

The best defenders are aggressive and fearless but don’t lose their temper. A rash or impatient tackle can cost your team the game.

2. Don’t let the other team shoot

A defenders main goal is to prevent the opposition from shooting.

Do whatever it takes to prevent players from setting up a shot.

Opposing players that manage to shoot should have to rush it. He should be off-balance due and shouldn’t have enough time to get a clear view of the goal.

3. Work together

Defenders are useless alone. They need to work with other defenders and midfielders to be effective.

Defenders should coordinate to mark players, double team, and execute an offside trap.

When a defender is beaten, someone else needs to cover for him. Defenders should tell midfielders and other defenders who to mark.

Read our articles How To Develop Chemistry With Soccer Teammates and How to Communicate Effectively in Soccer for more information.

4. Clear the ball

Clear the ball in high pressure situations.

Your first choice on where to kick it should be on the field, then out for a throw in (the farther away from your goal the better), then out for a corner.

A good clear allows your team to regroup and avoid an unnecessary goal.

5. Stop the dribble early

Players that feel comfortable dribbling can create holes in your team’s defense.

Don’t let this happen. Set the tempo early by refusing to let a player beat you. If they do, sprint as hard as you can to catch up and use your body to steal the ball or stop their dribble.

Prepare for the possibility of a defender or midfielder on your team getting beat. Be ready to pounce on the player if your teammate gets beat.

6. Delay great dribblers

A few deadly dribblers on the opposition can make a huge difference.

Don’t let them beat you. They will become confident and beat players over and over.

Recognize these players and delay them (delaying is covered in our article on defending), even when a tackle looks easy. Good dribblers can evade your tackle and get past you before you know what hit you.

You need to force them to pass or they will destroy your defense. Show them that dribbling isn’t an option.

7. Overlap and Cover

Wingback can move up the field to cross the ball. A good winger will cover you (play as a wingback) when you make a run upfield. If necessary, tell him to “cover me.”

Try overlapping or running down the sideline when your winger has the ball. The opposing winger may try to pressure your team’s winger or will get confused and stand still for a few seconds.

You will be open as long as the winger doesn’t turn and follow you quickly and the opposing wingback doesn’t react quickly to your run.

51 thoughts on “Soccer Defender Guide”

  1. i’m 12 i had an under thirteen match yesterday. these seven tips helped our team. i just didn’t let the dribbler pass the defense the score was 0-0 and we won in the penalties

  2. I am a defender , but always seems to be too passive , I’m afraid that the attackers could get past me once I go in , so I always stay passive , is there any ways I can be more aggressive while being confident that I won’t foul or anything?

    • Hi Ernie – I play a lot of defense as well. It’s important to make your move at the right time. Unfortunately, if you’re too passive or move at the wrong time, an attacker will blow right by you.

      One trick I use that works really well is to force the attacker to make his move first. Since I force the move, I no longer need to guess when it will come. At worst, I keep the attacker at bay for a few more seconds which shifts momentum in the defenses’ favor.

      All you need to do is fake like your going in for the tackle, but pull back. If he makes a move, you should be able to step with him and take the ball away. If he doesn’t make a move, I would close in on him and attack the ball VERY aggressively.

      The key is to not worry about making mistakes. Guys are going to beat by you and defenses are going to have goals scored against them. It’s inevitable. Just go out there like a lion and do your best.

  3. Hey, If you were a defender and your losing the game what is a good way to cheer your defenders, and the rest of the team on as well? That will get them to push back and work there hardest?

    • My teams used to scream “next 5” to pump each other up. “Next 5” means no goals are going to be scored in the next 5 minutes under any circumstances. It means you’re playing at an elevated level for the next 5 minutes. As simple as this seems, it really energizes the team. In fact, my teams have never been scored on during a “Next 5” period of time.

    • Just tell them not to give up. I’ll elaborate- a lot of times teams can get their heads down and make stupid and hasty decisions. I’m sweeper so my job is to control defense. Because I’m only in charge of defense, that’s what I can control. I can’t control if offense scores or not but I can control whether we let the ball past us. Telling them to keep their heads up is so important. It’s not over till the whistle blows so play like it. Tell them to give it all they have and be aggressive. Helps a lot

  4. I’m 11 years old,on Friday we were playing a game during the exams at break,nothing serious. I am the star defender, or was, we were playing a match the other team scored and the captain (Kian) subbed my off. Five minutes later i get back on, I do my job block goals,put the opponent under pressure exc. So everyone is shouting at me “header!” and first of all the ball was to high and it was gonna be out anyway, so now everyone stars saying i’m useless, the captain says he’ll kick me off the team for good if i don’t header it next time. Second chance comes i jump and kick it, i don’t understand why but the started calling me garbage and stuff like that i get kicked out. The game ends 1-0 the opponent wins, everyone is mad at me. The reason i don’t header the ball is because when i was 10 i had problems with me head, fainting, dizziness and severe headaches, went to the doctor and she said i shouldn’t take blows to the head because my tumor could become very severe. I tried telling the that but everyone avoided me. i dont know what to do

      • Hi im a 19 year old centre back over in Australia. Im a 6 foot guy who weighs 78kg, i want to lose a little bit of weight to keep the speed but also gain muscle, are there any tips or workout timetables I can do or get to get to the peak of what I can athletically look like and do on the pitch? Not sure if any of this makes sense, just looking for a help in hand

  5. I am planning on playing at the college level and attempting to go professional level. I’m a senior in high school. Are there any tips for a diet and drills for a defender?

  6. hi, my name is Renee and I’m a defender. lately, I’ve been feeling less confident when I have the ball and worried that everyone’s going to yell at me. what should I do?

    • Hi Renee – It’s important to trust yourself on the field. The more you practice, the more you’ll develop confidence when you play. Think about areas where you could improve…Develop those areas. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It’s a game and is supposed to be fun. Go out there, practice, play, and enjoy yourself. Here’s an article about building confidence as well:

  7. I’m 17 and as the captain I find it difficult to control and keep my defenders in position as I’m trying to have the midfield work well with each other. Is there any tips to keeping a defensive line in shape and formation?

    • Hi Josh – It starts with communication from the keeper. Your keeper needs to be communicating with the defense and helping them out positionally. Communication is KEY!

  8. my school are having soccer try-outs on the 6th of February and i wanna try out as a defender and im really nerves on what the other girls and the coach are gonna think of me, most of the girls i know trying out for the team are way better than me at soccer and ive been practicing but i feel like its not good enough to make the team. do you have any helpful tips and things that will help me with my problem? (pls reply quick tho cuz tryouts are basically next week) thanks:)

    • Hi Nemo – Soccer is such a beautiful sport because of the team aspect of the game. There are ALWAYS varying levels of skill on every team. Some players do more than others to get a win, but everyone contributes, even the bench players and practice players.

      During your tryout, it’s your job to show the coaches that you will be an asset to the team. Focus on being a team player. Be supportive, be positive, and play hard. Cheer on girls that do well and encourage those who need it. Lead by example by doing your best on every play.

      Make it very clear that you will be an asset to the team, whether it’s on the field during games, helping to prepare the team during practice, or even off the field helping to enhance the team’s chemistry.

      You’ll do great. Good luck! Please check back and let us know how you did!

  9. the tryouts were ok i guess, but some of the people were talking about how i control and kick the ball and it lowered my self esteem and now i dont think im gonna make the team. we have another tryout practice on the 7th (tomorrow) and we will be playing alot any tips on what i should prepare myself for the next tryouts?? wish me luck

  10. today was the last day of tryouts and the coach will be listing the new players tm the tryouts was fun and easy i really hope i make the team wish me luck

  11. well unfortunatly i didnt make the soccer team i am so sad that i didnt make it (i actually cried) but i guess that is how life works and i could either give up or move on and try harder and there is always ….next year:(

  12. Hey, I am 12 and we had a game today, we lost 3-0 and i was really discouraged because i think i did not defend well so they scored. How can i improve if i play with people smaller than me and i am afraid to make them fall?, What can i do to stay focused and to think positive, because sometimes when i play midfield, i have opportunities to score but i never do :(. What can i do to improve?

    • Hi Haley – I think the guide in this article is a great place to start. Please let us know how you did in the tryout!

  13. I read the article and went for a match. Surprisingly I played well. I am a left back and prevented at least 3 to 4 goals. Even the goalkeeper didn’t had to put any effort. We won efficiently by a score of 3-1. Now I have became our best LB, though it was my first match with my team. I made great tackles, prevented a sure goal (as the goalkeeper was not in fell down and the goal was empty), and didn’t let a single player beat me. I made won some sliding tackles as well, but unfortunately got one yellow card as I miss-tackled. thanks a lot for those tips and keep up with the good work.

  14. I am 12 now and many opposing players have started to get afraid of me just from my first game of the tournament and the credit goes not only to me but to your article also.

  15. Hey, I got into my schools soccer team but I’m super worried! I’m paying my first game and the #1 thing I worry about as defense is; my position, attacking, and what I do if the ball gets past me. I’m worried about my position because our teams very complex with formation. We ‘pinch in’ and shift our formation when someone may move up.I’m worried I won’t understand and just stand there out of my position. For attacking, I’m just worried about if a opponent is coming towards me (dribbling) at a fast speed that I will mess up. Say they are coming at me and I want to stop them but when I go at them the just juke past with the ball. I want to know how to avoid that.

  16. I want to tryout for soccer for my first time and I never play organized but I want to tryout for defender but i dont know any drills for a defender and all I have is a rebound goal and cones.Any tips

  17. Hello, I play at a D2 college in Ohio and I have a problem with playing aggressive against my teammates, I obviously don’t want to hurt them but I am 6’3 185 so playing aggressive is my game, my coach always says I play too aggressive in practice but for me to play at my full potential I need to play aggressive, any ideas?

    • Hey Reese – It can’t hurt to try a different style in practice. You never know what will open up for your game if you try a few different things and approaches out. That’s what practice is for after all! Not hurting your teammates from aggressive play will be icing on the cake!

  18. hey, im 12, almost 13, and im a pretty experienced defender and i normally win the ball but at my first practice for my school team, i was the only defender and went to approach them and they just passed through my legs. Do you have any tips on how to get past that? Also im a small defender so im not scaring anyone! hahaha

  19. I am on the best team but I have been not playing well recently and now am a bench player I’m 12 but i am playing with the 12,13, and 14 yr olds next year and I am afraid I won’t make it…..
    my team moved up a division and I guess I have been scared when I do attack they always get pass me but I am the player that playes every position, not just defense. I always lose the ball…

    • The best thing you can do it believe in yourself and work hard. I’m in U-14. Believe me its not easy, a lot more pressure. I personally play every position (not goalkeeper I suck at that lmao) But I have always leaned more to defense. Other than that all I can really say is that you need to make sure your comfortable with where you are, and like I said believe in yourself.

  20. Hey, my name is Elena and I’m a defender. And lately, i’ve been getting into arguments with my parents because I don’t stick on a player. Am i supposed to stick on a player everywhere they go or do I just stay by them, while my team has the ball up top?

    • Hello Elena, I’m a defensive player (a sweeper) in U-14. You always wanna stay on the player you are marking. Though if they go into the middle or the other side of the field let your local defenders mark them. In some cases if the center defender can not mark them, you can move near the middle but make sure no one is on your side if you do. If the ball is on the opposite teams side then mark them no matter what (unless they go beyond the middle line), if the ball goes to the person your marking you can quickly get in front of them. ALWAYS stay on the side of them, don’t be behind them or in front of them. But if they go behind you then make sure your quick to get the ball from them, or you can put them off sides. Hope this helped!! Have a wonderful day!

  21. Hello, am Rufas a right back but I face challenge in football because most of the times attackers dodge me and score goals for us , now the team has removed me from the team’s list.
    what best can I do to get back in the game

  22. As a center back can I join in with counter attacks? How can I be going forward and coming back like how Sergio Ramos does for Spain*

  23. Hi my name is winsbro i play defend am a good defender i prevent so many goals but i don,t have ball control and whenever i tackle and win my opponent ,and get control of the ball i will not give a good pass to my team mate and that always make them annoy,i need help on how to control the ball

  24. Hi, I am a left wingback in a 7 a side team and play aggressively but players says a bit too aggressive (like playing foul game). Can you give me some tips so that I can maintain my gameplay but also avoid fouling.

  25. Hello so I have a game this Friday and I’m super nervous my coach says I’m a defender but I haven’t played soccer in awhile and I’m very stressed out and feel like I won’t make it any tips or suggestions it’s this Friday so in 3 days thank you


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