The Goal.

Teaching Better Marking and Tracking

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A Coach Asks

We are having a new problem and that is the idea of marking tightly in the defensive third on players without the ball. The boys cannot understand the need to be goal side and shoulder to shoulder with players that are in dangerous positions. While we are averaging 3.5 goals per game in scoring we are giving up 2.5 goals per game and many of these are coming from not marking on the goal side and letting players run free. What kinds of games do you know of that would reinforce this type of marking in the defensive third?

The problem is in the middle third to the defensive third. It seems to be both a transition problem along with an inability by some of our players to understand what a tight mark is versus giving a cushion on the weak side.  It is happening near the ball as the free runners are the ones who continue to score on headers unchallenged and it is both mids and strikers depending on who the team is sending. Some of this is occurring on restarts while other breakdowns seem to be coming during the flow of play. I am  trying to find some ideas of what will reinforce the idea of staying goal side and the  idea of what a tight mark is when we pick up runners. We play a Zone defense until the final third where we are supposed to pick up runners and stay with those players until this particular attack is over. The only exception is any runner on the weak side. We do understand to give a cushion until the ball is switched to that side. Then we shift well. We are getting better with this difficulty, however it seems difficult for our boys to understand what it means to be tight on the mark.

Some Ideas

When we first teach marking, we use simple games like 7v7 soccer to goals with keepers with the restriction that each player can only tackle and defend against his or her mark. Other players can not support, so staying close is important. (We still play this at all ages, but it becomes an entertaining fitness game).  It sounds like tracking is not happening.

I think the points you are looking for here are 

  • staying goal side of attacker
  • keep opponent and ball in view
  • be aware of location of goal
  • recognize when tracking run should stop - vital space being left uncovered is a problem

Perhaps you might want to start with a pile of balls in the center circle, two attacking mids as servers, a keeper in goal at the end, and 3v3 in between the halfway line and the goal. Perhaps you could also add free servers outside each touch-line who can cross any ball received. The attacking three are going to goal, they can use the free wing servers or drop the ball to the midfielders, who don't come forward.

From this setup, I'd ask the defenders to stop shots and win the ball, return it to their keeper to punt out to the midfielders in the circle to start the exercise each time.  I would ask the attacking three to exchange position and to provide overlap runs on the back side. I would ask the attackers to find open runners.

Given all this, I would coach from play and point out when tracking is happening correctly.  Perhaps you would also want to advance to a 4v4 in the middle and add counter goals for the defenders. At this point, I would also allow the midfielders to make runs forward, one at a time, when space was available, giving a 4+attacking runner v 4.

Static defending at free plays can be practiced from free play situations with free runners. Again, I don't personally use special exercises, but instead coach from play. Since you have already thought through very carefully what you are looking to see happen, it should be easy to identify during the practice.