The Goal.

Defensive Focus for U12?

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A Coach Asks

I'm worried about our U12 boys soccer team.  Our soccer coaches doing our tactical and technical training told us that they will focus on individual and team attacking this year from both a skills and tactics point of view.  We are scoring goals but we are giving up too many goals.  I am worried that we should focus more on team defending and individual defending tactics to get more games won.

Some Ideas

Individual defending tactics should be in the annual training plan for U12's, but there's certainly nothing wrong with a plan that focuses on attacking.  Many players are damaged at an early age by a concern over winning games instead of learning to attack.  Most of the better players I have had who have gone on to great college careers were great attackers at 11 and 12.  These are great learning years for attacking.

I have seen many kids who were good at defending at younger ages but weak at attacking.  Few of these kids went on to college play. Of the many kids I have coached who are active in Division I now, nearly all were good attackers at a younger age and we did not tighten up individual defending and small group and team defending until they were older.

So, I guess if it were my kid, I would stop worrying about winning the games and just look to see some good enthusiastic attacking.  I would make sure that no parents or coaches were discouraging the players from taking on their opponents whenever a 1v1 would create a shot, and I would ensure that no coaches or parents were discouraging shooting.

When it is time for defending, here is a section of an outline from "A Defensive Teaching Progression" that outlines some of the topics beyond individual defending tactics that can be introduced in the U12 and U13 years without much difficulty.  The emphasis of your note is individual defending tactics, and these have to be covered and mastered first before the rest of this makes any sense.


  • second and third defender play
  • 1v1 marking near ball with zone coverage away from ball
  • shape - getting it, keeping it, changing it quickly
  • transition basic counterattack (choreographed)
  • defenders overlapping to give numbers up and width in attack
  • working with keeper
  • sweeper play - angles, communication, basic visual cues
  • playing ball out of the back
  • defending at restarts
  • recovery and defending against breakaways
  • reinforce U11 topics