When an opponent has the ball, a defender, at least, must prevent the ball from moving forward.
For a defender, it's all about control. What can a defender actually control and how can it be coached? The only thing a defender can control is to prevent an offensive player from moving forward. A defender can't control, most of the time, an offensive player passing backwards or to the side.
So, as a youth coach, concentrating on having your defenders deal with only one part of the situation, and that's preventing the ball from moving forward. The key is to get close to the attacker as quickly as possible and then assessing the situation from there. The attacker must not be given room to move or have much time to think about options. This is referred to as "pressing" which basically means closing down space.
Great defenders can assess a scenario before it happens and quickly close down space in an instant.
A lot of youth players try to do too much defensively. They want to close down the space and then completely strip the offensive player of the ball. This often results in the offensive player simply dribbling around the defensive player and running towards the net. Teaching your kids to simply close down space and then prevent the ball from moving forward is a great soccer coaching tip. This might mean never touching the ball at all and only acting as a barrier so the offensive player is forced to use other options.
Containing is the next step. Once defensive players close the space on an offensive player, they will then want to contain that player. This means that the defender will provide a barrier so the offensive player can't move forward. The defensive player doesn't have to make an attempt at the ball and often shouldn't at first. Coach your kids to be patient and allow the offensive player to make a possible mistake.
How should a defensive player actually contain? The player should be in a crouched position facing the offensive player with as much body surface area as possible. The defender should be ready to spring to action, but is not lunging for the ball. The defender is applying pressure but waiting and watching closely for the offensive player to make a move. The pressure alone usually causes the offensive player to mistakenly give up the ball to the defensive player.
Lunging for the ball or "throwing the leg" is very dangerous for defensive players. It usually results in offensive players dribbling around them and moving forward. Youth players need to develop the patience to not necessarily throw their leg unless they are 100 percent sure they'll gain possession.
The fewer responsibilities you can place on a youth defender the better they'll be--and the defense of your team will improve dramatically. Once defenders learn to have patience and contain an offensive player, they'll have a lot more fun playing soccer.
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