Soccer Defensive Footwork Drills

Written by VersusFri Dec 09 2022
Soccer Defensive Footwork Drills

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For a defender to be successful, they must have exceptional defensive footwork. Kelley O'Hara teaches you how to train to become a better defender on the pitch.

Kelley O’Hara runs through some defensive footwork drills that target defensive positioning and how to properly angle the body to prevent through passes.

For a defender to be successful, they must have exceptional defensive footwork.  Vital in soccer, developing and refining these skills can take a defender to the next level. And every detail in defensive positioning could be the difference between giving up a handful of goals, one goal or keeping a clean sheet in a championship game. This is why working on the basics of footwork is especially important for positioning and success as a defender. 

Versus has teamed up with two-time FIFA World Cup Champion, and current USWNT and NWSL player, Kelley O’Hara, to create a course on the importance of how to train footwork as a defender. This article, and others that are similar, that focus on technical soccer skills are found at 

In this session recap, O'Hara explains two effective footwork drills aimed to help defenders work on their reaction time and positioning. 

The first drill is designed to work on shifting the body properly and exploding in the correct direction. This is a drill specifically designed for outside backs as a way of practicing good habits in keeping the ball in front of the player and pressuring an attacker into tight spaces.

The second drill aims to teach defenders how to block passing lanes. It is an effective training technique in reaction time and how to anticipate passes with quick, acute movements. 

If you want to get the most out of this exclusive video training session and see more from O’Hara and other soccer experts, subscribe to Versus or download the app to sign up. 

Angled Approach

The first exercise is built around closing out where the ball lies and then exploding down the line. This exercise mimics real game situations where an outside back is trying to angle themselves in a manner that forces the attacker into tighter spaces – often wedged toward the sideline.

“As you get close, break down and get low,” O’Hara explains. 

This drill starts with stepping toward the ball to apply pressure.. The angle in which you are stepping is most important. Remember to step quickly and aggressively, and be ready to explode in the direction of the attackers dribble. 

Then, once the pressure is applied, quickly move outwards, guiding the attacker into a direction where it is easier to defend.

This is an important exercise to practice leading on both legs, building repetitions with both legs will help in becoming a more versatile and well-balanced defender. 

Being an outside defender in soccer is one of the most demanding and difficult positions to play. Defenders are expected to be near perfect in every game – in fact, one mistake can often be the difference between a win and a loss. 

Closing out on an attacker can limit their attacking options and disrupt the flow of attack. More importantly, this exercise teaches defenders to use the sideline in their favor. Herding the attacker towards the sideline can help create an inherent advantage for the defender, one of the few advantages defenders have..

Kelly stresses squeezing the attacker into tighter spaces and limiting their field options to explore can ultimately produce a change in possession. Tightening the field is one of the best strategies a defender can employ to disrupt attack. And since the attacker’s best resource is open space, closing in on an attacker is the best way to limit this resource.

Defensive Footwork Drill

In this exercise all you need is a teammate, a ball, and two cones. It is an incredibly simple exercise, but when done correctly, it can instill invaluable habits in a defender. 

The goal of the attacker is to move the ball and pass it through the cones without the defender blocking it. For the defender, it is important to read what the attacker is planning and to not overreact to the slightest movement from the attacker.

“Stay super low, make little movements,” Kelley suggests.

It is important to stay low, thus the defender can react to where the attacker is leading the ball. It is worth noting that the attacker might be trying to employ a variety of ball fakes and misdirection strategies. Staying low essentially neutralizes these fakes, giving more time for the defender to react appropriately. 

This exercise is meant to be done in repetition, to build good habits as a defender. Instincts as a defender in soccer are truly something you can’t teach overnight. However, instincts are something you can improve upon through footwork drills such as this one. Experience and instincts can separate an elite defender from the rest of the pack, which is why it is so important to train the mind as well as the feet. This drill accomplishes both. 

Key Takeaways

The main takeaway from this drill is that great footwork is key to being a great defender.

Defense is inherently a reactionary position, which is why practicing good habits is important to improve upon reaction time and anticipation. Footwork is the barest fundamental of defensive position and can help give any player the edge they need to succeed.

Defenders have to take any advantage they are given in a sport like soccer. The game is built and officiated in a way that gives the advantage to the attacker in almost every situation. Even psychologically, defenders aren’t afforded any room for mistakes. 

Perfecting upon defensive footwork drills can help make the ultimate difference in a game that is decided by millimeters. Any added advantage as a defender, such as knowing how to use the sideline in your favor and squeezing a defender into tighter spaces, can be the ultimate difference between a clean sheet and a goal conceded. Using these drills can help drive home good defensive instincts and useful habits towards disrupting an attacker’s game plan.

If you want to find more defensive footwork drills for soccer, additional instruction from Kelley O’Hara, and what it takes to have a winning mindset, head over to Versus and check out our Game Plans. Any of our packages will get you access to our lessons, plus tons of other training sessions, interactive content, and more.

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