A Coach Asks
I have to teach kids when and when not to tackle. How can I do this effectively?
There are hundreds of articles about individual defending tactics that could provide a lot of good advice and detail, but I will just offer my best recollections. There are hundreds of exercises available in books and literature. Please check out a few other sources, I don't want to let you down by misunderstanding what's wanted exactly.
The Decision to Tackle
The defender's decision to tackle depends mostly on
A couple of examples -
Most of the exercises I can recall focus on getting your first defender to delay until a recovery defender is available.
First, look at the Sigi Schmidt clinic called Pressure, Cover, Balance.
This provides a progression that really focuses on defending tactics. In the second match-related exercise, the first defender is supported (for the first time). The emphasis in this exercise is in getting the first defender to now take responsibility to close down the attacker since the first defender is supported. Note however, tackling is not the focus of the exercise, it's about the decision on how close to play. In this case, the first defender could tackle if there is a chance to win the ball.
Next, from many references like Coaching Soccer the Modern Way by Ditchfield and Bahr, you will see a series of exercises that progress from one defender without support to three or more defenders. Perhaps you could set up a 10x20 grid and do this sequence.
Exercise 1. Play 1v1 lengthwise, with attacker and defender starting outside grid ends. Defender serves ball to attacker and closes space as the ball travels. In this exercise the defender will not tackle unless beaten or unless the attacker literally makes a mistake and gives the ball to the defender. Attacker tries to cross goal-line from which defender served ball, defender tries to force attacker out of grid or win ball, but more than anything, to delay the attacker and make play predictable and safe.
The classic coaching points you must look for and correct when the moment is right include
There are about 100 more points, and everyone has their own favorites. Of all of these, arriving early and under control, matching pace, and keeping the feet moving are perhaps most important.
Caution: You might be asked "When should the defender approach with a bending run instead of a straight run". This is not a trivial question.
The answer is, an outward bending run, which opens space to attract the attacker, can not be used close enough to your own goal to allow a shot. If the attacker is close enough to shoot, then the defender should either go straight to the ball, or in many cases, use an inward bending run that takes the defender onto the line of play between the ball and your goal. This inward bending run does not always help steer the attacker to the side, but it does help close down the chance for a shot right away before any jockeying starts. The "straight to the ball" applies if a shot must be stopped instantly.
Exercise 2. 1v1 plus recovery defender. Same as 1, except that recover defender arrives after a few moments. You can arrange this many ways, such as by having the recovery defender start from 10 yards behind the defender when the ball is first played, or having the defender start at the attackers end and sprint into a supporting position behind and slightly to the side of the first defender (tucked in).
Here you will ask the first defender to provide delay, as in the first exercise, until the recovery defender arrives. When there is support, then the first defender can pressurize more, close the space, and tackle if there is an opportunity.
Exercise 3. Expand your grid to 30 wide and 50 long, meters or yards doesn't matter, but do adjust the space for your age group. (Play across a half field). Play 5v5 to two cone goals, one at each end of the field. One player for each team serves as goalkeeper in cone goals about 6 yards wide. Rotate goalkeepers as you play. This leaves 4v4 on the field. Your game restriction here is that two players for the defending side must start behind the goal-line of the attacking side as the attackers play out from goal. This leaves the defending team down 2v4 until the two recovery defenders arrive. There should be only delay or desperation tackling in this circumstance until the recovery defenders arrive to provide a second defender where needed. After this, the tackling decision is based on having support tucked in behind the first defender, and on location on the field. Tackling near the opponent's goal or along the touch-lines is safer than stabbing at the ball in midfield or in front of your own goal. Find the moments in the game where a tackle might have been made, such as when your players doubled up on the ball in a safe place, and coach toward tackling or provide encouragement for correct decisions made not to tackle when support or location are wrong. (See exercise 106 in Secrets of Soccer from IFK Goteborg).
Exercise 4. Play with no restrictions 5v5 or more to two goals, and coach your individual defending tactics topic in the game. Look for your opportunities to confirm good decision-making.
Another reference I could recommend for coaches working with younger players is Karl DeWazien's well-illustrated book FUNdamental Soccer Tactics.