Mark Stimson Session Report

Closing Down Opponents to Avoid Counter Attack

Mark Stimson started the session with warm up exercises to get the players into the mindset of defending. He reminded the players that wherever they play on the field they have a duty and responsibility for defending and the best teams are those that start to defend the moment they lose the ball, with forward players taking as much responsibility for winning it back as the back four players.

The players were divided into pairs within 10 yard grids. The players faced each other and worked down the grid with the players facing forward making a short pass into the feet of his partner who stopped the ball and then jockeying back a few paces as the first player stepped forward to pass the ball forward to him again and this movement was repeated down the length of the grid with, of course, the player moving backwards doing the jockeying. Then the movement was reversed from the other end of the grid with the other player doing the jockeying. Mark coached the correct body shape for jockeying, adopting a low body stance, little quick steps and well balanced half turned position in the back-pedalling motion. He added that this was excellent warm up work, as well as good technical work, because the players were really getting their feet moving. He added two touches, from each foot, before the defender jockeyed off to add extra foot movement. Then the defender alternated between right and left foot to stop the ball so that he had to adjust his body shape each time to jockey showing the opposite side.

Mark then progressed the session into a 2 v 2 situation where the grid sizes were doubled. Now the players had to combine as a defensive pair and he stressed that communication was now of vital importance. A server was added into each group and so the exercise was done in fives. The server had to pass into the pair who were attackers and they had to attempt to go past the defensive pair and score by crossing the line, with the ball under control, at the opposite end of the grid. The defending pair had to defend effectively and when they gained possession of the ball their objective was to make an accurate pass back to the server. So the scoring system was; the attackers scored a point by crossing the line and the defenders scored a point by passing accurately into the feet of the server once they had regained possession. The defenders did not score by knocking the ball off the side or forcing the attackers out of the grid but Mark stressed that this was still good play because they had effectively prevented the opposition attack from progressing. Mark worked extremely hard at encouraging the players to communicate. He made it clear that the covering defender, i.e. the one not closing down the opponent with the ball, must instruct his partner to show his opponent either right or left, inside or outside, so that the challenging defender could shape his body so as to send his attacker into the covering defender should the attacker go past him. Mark showed the players the correct angle and distance to cover the challenging defender. Not being too square so that the attacker is clear if he beats the first defender in 1 v 1 duel but also not too far away to get tight quickly when the ball is passed to the second attacker. Mark coached the covering defender to find the half and half position so that he was in close enough support to his partner to close up the first attacker should he go past the first defender but also at just the right distance and angle to pressure the second attacker if the ball is passed to him. Similarly, Mark coached the first defender to drop into the covering position immediately when the roles are reversed. Mark mentioned that of course the attacking players must be aware that the offside law operates in this practice and this would be partciularly necessary to emphasise in junior and grassroots football. Mark mentioned at this stage that all players must observe in the opening minutes of a match which the best foot is of their immediate opponent so that during the course of the game when out of possession, he can force that player to pass/receive on that weaker foot.

Mark now progressed into the climax of the session where the players were all brought together into a game situation. He coached one team and worked on the central midfield player(s) in defending when possesion had been lost. In the first scenario he lined up the team he was coaching in a 4-4-2 line up and worked on the 2 central midfield players. The game started with a central midfield player and he had to pass it forward into the opposing back 4 players to intentionally lose possession. The opposition were lined up 4-3-3. He now coached and observed how the two midfield players reacted to various situations in which they had to defend as the opposition attacked. It was seen at first that both the players committed themselves forward at the same time and so Mark had to point out that if one went forward then the other stayeed. Once they complemented each other’s movements and positions then they became much more effective. To make the defending team have more challenging situations as they progressed then he told the defending striker to let the opposing defender pass the ball forward before coming into the game. Consequently the midfield players faced more challenging situations.

After this mark switched the defening team intyo a 4-3-3 formation and this at first presented the midfield with more difficulties in adjusing to their defensive roles. The problem was that all three went forward to press the ball and consequently the opposition got into space in front of the defence. So Mark stepped in to nominate one midfielder to be the ‘sitter’ who stayed back to shield his defence and engage opponents who broke through from midfield before they could penetrate his defence. This made a lot of difference and the players became more comfortable and happy in their respective roles. It was a question of how would the players react on losing possession and they steadily improved as the practice went on.

It was an excellent session, of great benefit to all coaches, at whatever level they are working at.