Coaching Education content provided by the .NSCAA
Goal-Side Defensive Positioning
by Lawrence Fine
Is there more to it than that?
Most players have heard their coaches yell to get goal-side on defense. That's just the first step toward proper defensive positioning. I believe the proper term is to "get ball-you-man-goal-side." It takes a little more explanation and a little more thought, but it can make players much better defenders.
Let's start with what "goal-side" means. Quite simply, it means making sure that the defender is closer to the goal than the player being marked. The concept is to keep the defender's body between where the attacker is and where he or she wants to go. It's a simple concept, but it is not an absolute. By staying goal-side, it means the defender is constantly keeping the opponent onside.
"Ball-you-man" is a different term from what most coaches use. After an easy explanation, though, it makes a great deal of sense. Wherever the ball is on the field, the defender will want to be closer to the ball than the player being marked. Doing this makes it easy to intercept many passes. In addition, it allows the defender to give support to teammates because it will put the defender closer to the players their teammates are marking in case they
get beat. Imagine the ball is with a player on the right side of the field (the defender's right) and the player being marked is on the left side of the field. If the defender were to mark by standing right next to him or her, it would allow for a simple one hole pass to beat the defender. By playing toward the middle of the field, it will make it much harder for this pass to be completed successfully.
By combining goal-side defense and ball-you-man defense into ball-you-man/goal-side defense, the defender is in a position that allows prevention of the attacker from getting past him or her while giving support to teammates and placing him or herself in a position to intercept errant passes. It is the best of all worlds.
If you are having difficulty picturing this, imagine a field separated into a bunch of grids on it. The defender always wants to be in a grid closer to the goal then the player he or she is marking. Looking at the field and thinking of the horizontal grids, the defender wants to be in a grid closer to the goal then the mark and in a vertical grid closer to the player with the ball then the mark.
How far off the mark does the defender stand? It depends on the distance of the ball to the mark and the location on the field. To simplify the answer, the further away the mark is from the ball, the further away the defender can be. There are so many variables (such as speed of the defender and speed of the mark) that there is no right answer. It comes with experimentation and experience.
Editor's Note: Lawrence Fine produces FineSoccer.com, an online resource for a variety of tips, ideas and newsletters related to soccer coaching. A member of the NSCAA Website Development Committee, Fine also serves as volunteer assistant coach for an NCAA Division I men's team.