Role of the Stopper and More

A Coach Asks

Can you explain and illustrate the concept of pressure, cover, balance? - In a 4-4-2 formation, can you explain and illustrate the responsibilities of the stopper? - Can you suggest any resources that explains and illustrates each position in the various formations from an offensive and defensive perspective? I coach a young girls JV team. I am looking for resources that I can use to explain the various positions within each formation and how each position reacts in an offensive and defensive perspective.

Some Ideas about Resources

There is more here than I can answer in a short column.  Your questions merit a book size response, or at least a pamphlet, but here are a couple of short answers to get you started.

  • For free, see Team Defense.  Perhaps you've already looked this over.
  • If you can afford it, you would be well-served to purchase the set of tapes from International Tactics called Individual Defending, Group Defending, Individual Attacking, and Group Attacking. These were produced by Jape Shattuck, and I haven't seen better.
  • For training, you would be well-served to purchase the single tape "The Umbro Pro-Training Skill Factor Introduced by Alan Schearer". This tape has nothing to do with Umbro or skill. It is all about how to teach use of pressure and shape to break the opponent. It works up from individual defending tactics to small group and team defending, moving from defending through transition to attack. 
  • Look at the Sigi Schmidt clinic called Pressure, Cover, Balance.
  • You may find the coaching guide on the Soccer-Coach-L list helpful, I think there's a link to it on the site. Sorry that's the best I can do for now.

These tapes can be ordered from several sources like Soccer Learning Systems, Reedswain, Champion Books and Tapes, and so on. 

Pressure, Cover, Balance

Pressure, cover, balance refers to the responsibilities of the first, second, and third defenders.

First Defender

The first defender is not someone on the field with a baseball cap that says "first defender".  The first defender is the defender close enough to the ball to pressure the ball, to possible tackle the ball, and to possibly turn the first attacker (the player with the ball) away from the attack. 

The first defender's role is pressure: no get, no turn, no move, no shoot. This means that the defender tries to prevent possession, if possession is gained tries to prevent the attacker from turn hips to goal, if the attacker turns the defender tries to keep the attacker from being able to run at goal, and, at all times, tries to prevent the attacker from getting a shooting opportunity. 

After you get this under control, you will find yourself wanting to coach your players, in their roles as first defenders, not to allow players with the ball to turn their hips to goal and to play the ball forward to teammates.

Second Defender

Any defender who is close enough to cover space behind the first defender and who is close enough to step in and defend against the first attacker if the first defender is beaten is a second defender.  

Third Defender

All other defenders are third defenders. These are defenders who are not close enough to pressure the ball or to cover space behind the first defender.  Third defenders are generally not close to the ball. Third defenders provide "balance". This means that while many other defenders are close to the ball to apply pressure and to try to win the ball, third defenders cover space on the side of the field away from the ball.  Third defenders also track runners who run at space behind the defense.

Role of the Stopper

There are many ways to play as a stopper in a 4-4-2, so you may get many different answers to this question.  Don't exclude the possibility that all the answers you hear are in some way correct. 

Not all 4-4-2's have a stopper. Many back four's are played flat with quick defenders who are good at transitioning into attack. Anyway, if you are talking about a stopper, we'll assume that you are playing a deep sweeper, two marking backs, and a stopper out in front. 

In this setup, your stopper is responsible for 

  • marking a center forward for teams that play 3 strikers against your team, 
  • stopping shots from the area near the D, 
  • helping the center midfielder with team defending and getting numbers up in midfield during attack. 
  • When defending, the stopper will also track runners that come through midfield heading into space behind the defense.

The stopper has a responsibility to not drop into the defense too far and get stuck. By this, I mean that the stopper has to pop out to the top of the defense and to show an open body shape, ready to receive a ball passed from the central defender or goalkeeper, once possession is won. The stopper is an important outlet for playing the ball out of the back, and the stopper has to work to be available to the other defenders who need someone to pass to after the ball is won.