What are the Principles of Defending?

  • Pressure
  • Cover
  • Balance
  • Delay
  • Concentration


Why are they Important?

The Principles of Play, specifically here, the Principles of Defending are a set of guidelines to set players up for success while defending. If the group or team at large can implement the defensive principles they give themselves a better chance of being successful whilst defending.

There are a variety of nuances to defending, a lot you can coach within it and a whole host of different principles from different football governing bodies. This all goes to show that there isn't one approach to defending, but as a starting point, the Principles of Defending can prepare players and allow them to take ownership of defending on the field.


How might you use them?


The first defender (the person closest to the ball) is responsible for putting pressure on the ball. This is an important first step in order to try and get an attackers head down, cut off passing lanes or win the ball in the event of a bad touch or bad pass.



The second defender is responsible for providing cover to the first defender. This might be being close enough to step in and pressure the ball if the first defender gets beat in a 1 v. 1. It might mean positioning themselves to cut off passing lanes and prevent penetrating passes. Pressure and cover go hand in hand as roles change often depending on the position of the ball and other players on the field.



The third defender or other defenders within the unit are responsible for providing balance in defence. This means staying connected at all so that if the ball shifts across the field, they can switch to a role of pressure or cover if necessary. It also means providing balance across the defensive unit so that if the ball is switched, there is someone in position to get across and cover on the far side. This role requires good positioning, reading the cues of when the ball might be switched or played in behind.



Delaying the opponent might be necessary to buy other players more time to get into good positions in terms of pressure, cover and balance or for teammates to make recovery runs back.

If pressure, cover and balance is in place, the defence should have a decent team shape and positioning. You might still want to delay even if in good shape in order to creating a numbers up situation where you stack the odds in favour of winning the ball back.

There might be times not to delay - and this should be coached too. If you're numbers up, fancy your chances in a 1 v. 1 or the opponent takes a bad touch - it might be time to go and win it!!



The last and possibly most crucial Principle of Defending looks at compactness. All of the above may be very well and good, but if the gaps between the lines are too big, opposition players will undo the principles detailed above. By staying compact, it limits the space the opposition has to play in. This principle will however, lead to something being given up, as you cannot cover everything!