The skill of tackling in soccer is the act of a defender coming to meet an opponent who is in possession of the ball, engaging him, and then legally using a foot to take the ball away. This is an aggressive act that almost always involves contact, either between the players directly or with the ball between them. A proper approach to meet the opponent, timing, and forcefulness are critical to successfully winning the ball. (New American players, and parents alike, who may be more familiar with the concept of “tackling” in American football must be properly informed of the new meaning of the word!)
There are many types of soccer tackles, including the more remarkable and visually dramatic “slide tackle,” but the place to start when first teaching tackling is with the “front block tackle.” The front block tackle is so named because, when it is properly performed, the defender meets the opponent facing him, front-to-front, and then blocks the ball with the inside of the foot. The front block tackle is often undertaken after first trying to either intercept or steal the ball through a series of actions during which the defender jockeys with, or attempts to control the opponent, in such a way that the opponent can be dispossessed of the ball due to making an error. If this does not occur, when the opportunity presents itself the defender may then choose to execute a front block tackle.
Introducing the front block tackle to young players should only be undertaken after they have a sufficient understanding of, and proficiency with, the use of the inside of the foot to control and direct the ball and that they clearly know their right foot from their left. The recommended progression involved in teaching the front block tackle is:
Corrections should be made at all stages of the progression. Young beginners, in particular, may want to swing their leg to kick at the ball. This is dangerous and must not be allowed. Also, if successful at first in getting the ball, kicking at it will provide positive reinforcement to keep on doing it. Eventually, this will not work because the offensive player will simply pull the ball away and go around. Players must also be cautioned to stay on their feet and to not slide at an opponent.
Demonstration of the Objective and End Result – Demonstration of the front block tackle requires two people who have coordinated and prepared in advance. This can be the coach and an assistant coach or the coach and a parent, but both demonstrators should be of similar height and build. Once prepared and scheduled, at the practice session announce to the team that you are introducing “tackling,” specifically what is known as the “front block tackle.” State that a tackle in soccer is not like a tackle in American football. State that the objective of a tackle in soccer is for a defender to meet an opponent who has the ball and then work to get the ball away from him. State that the desired end result of the front block tackle is to “lock up” the ball with the opponent, to win it for yourself, and then to dribble into open space or pass the ball to a teammate.
State that you will now demonstrate the overall action of a front block tackle in “slow motion” and then the team will practice the individual parts. With the coach as the defender and the assistant as the dribbler, the assistant first stands still with the ball at his feet and the coach starts at least ten yards away. The coach initiates the demonstration by taking a first step toward the assistant. Upon seeing this cue, the assistant takes three dribbles: inside of the right foot – inside of the left foot – inside of right foot. With the last touch, the assistant stops and keeps the ball in contact with the inside of his right foot at the middle of the ball. It is extremely important that the right foot be turned outside slightly, similar to that for a push pass. While the assistant has been dribbling, the coach has taken steps toward him to close the gap between them. At the instant the assistant stops with the ball, the coach simultaneously contacts the ball with the inside of his right foot at the middle of the ball. Both the assistant and the coach must be conscious to have their bodies over the ball and contact the fronts of their right shoulders to each other. The ball is then kept between the insides of both feet briefly and then the assistant allows the coach to force the ball over his foot and head off with it.
It is now important to separately demonstrate that the coach did not wildly kick at the ball and that if the body weight is not over the ball, due to leaning backward, the dribbler will most likely maintain possession of the ball. Both kicking at the ball and leaning backward can be described as “what not to do.” Similarly, this is an opportunity to re-emphasize that the defender must not remove his foot from contact with the ball. Further, demonstrate that players are not to stretch out their legs to reach to the ball. Extending the leg exposes the ankle and knee to possible collision and damage.
For all of the following activities, set up the players in pairs with one ball between each pair. Explain that for each activity, one player will choose to start on “offense” and one player will be on “defense” and that they will then switch designations. Further explain that this is to train the defensive players and that, in most cases, the offensive players must “go along.” For young players, a higher rate of success in first introducing the front block tackle is achieved when starting with the dominate foot/leg. Accordingly, right-handed players should be put together as pairs and left-handed players should be put together as pairs. They need to be carefully instructed to then use their same, dominate foot, to contact the ball.
Proper Approach and Stance – Demonstrate that defenders can’t just rush in at an opponent because the offensive player can just pull the ball away and go around them. Further demonstrate that, to avoid this, the defender needs to approach the offensive player and then set up a few yards away. Demonstrate that the proper stance for a defender to assume is with one foot forward of the other, on the balls of the feet, with knees bent and proper balance, in order to be able to move in any direction. Clearly show that, for this lesson, the right-dominate players will have the left foot forward and the right foot back, and vice versa for the left-dominate players. (Some coaches have had success by referring to this as the “surfing position.”) Set the pairs up approximately 15 yards apart. Instruct the offensive players to dribble in slow motion. Instruct the defensive players to approach and close the gap. Instruct the defensive players to stop and assume the proper defensive stance. Instruct the offensive players to stop dribbling as soon as the defensive player attains the proper defensive stance. Switch the offensive and defensive players and repeat. (This activity also presents an opportunity to reinforce the concepts for the defender of “jockey,”
“contain,” “control,” and being “goal-side.”)
Contacting the Ball – Demonstrate that the next step is to recognize when to move in for the tackle. Demonstrate that if the offensive player dribbles the ball too far out in front, then the defender should move in and take it away. Again starting the pairs approximately 15 yards apart, instruct the offensive players to dribble and the defensive players to approach and assume a proper defensive stance. This time, instruct the offensive players to tap the ball too far out in front to be able to reach it in one step. Instruct the defensive players to react immediately and take it away. Switch positions and repeat. Now state that the
players will assume that the offensive player is capable of properly being able to control the ball. Demonstrate that the defenders must now look for an opportunity to step in and contact the ball. Demonstrate that, for this lesson, the opportunity to contact the ball will occur when the offensive player moves to dribble the ball with his right foot. Again, from approximately 15 yards away, instruct the defensive players to approach, close the gap and assume a proper defensive stance. Instruct the offensive players to then dribble three times with the insides of their feet: right-left-right (left-right-left for the left dominate pairs). Instruct the offensive players to stop moving at the last touch, with the ball contacting the inside of their foot similar to that for a push pass. (The inside of the foot should conform dead center on the fattest part, the middle-center, or the “equator” of the ball.) Instruct the defensive players to step forward and, with their ankle locked, contact the ball with the inside of the same foot. Switch the offensive and defensive players and repeat.
Body position – Demonstrate that the next step is to ensure proper body position when contacting the ball. Demonstrate that the defender’s body must be over top of the ball and that, as a result of the offensive player trying to do the same thing, body contact will be made, shoulder-to-shoulder. The leg and foot contacting the ball will be at approximately a 45-degree angle to the body and the non-contacting leg and foot (or “support foot”) will be outside and back for stability. For right-footed contact, the right shoulders will meet and vice versa. Demonstrate that if the defender is not leaning forward with the support foot back when contact is made, he is likely to fall backward. Emphasize that the shoulder-to-shoulder contact is fully legal. Instruct all pairs to keep the ball stationary between the insides of their respective feet as they lean forward and to contact each other with the same shoulder.
Timing – State that the players will now practice how to time contacting the ball. Reiterate that the players must both continue to use the same foot. After having prepared in advance, using a parent or assistant coach, demonstrate that, with the ball two-steps equidistant between the players, both players will simultaneously take one step with their left foot and then contact the ball with the inside of their right foot at exactly the same time. Remind the players to continue to be aware of proper body position and that the ankle must be locked. (Demonstrate that not locking the ankle will cause the ankle to rotate, resulting in loss of the ball or possible injury.) The offensive player initiates the first step with the defender immediately reacting. Repeat until timing is being achieved. This activity can be quite fun but players must be reminded to maintain their concentration and focus. As the timing is being achieved, players naturally will want to add power and a good, healthy “thump” can be heard as simultaneous contact is made. Players should be cautioned, however, not to overdo the power because this can lead to wanting to just kick at the ball as hard as possible or for an ankle to be twisted. Switch the offensive and defensive players and repeat.
“Locking Up” and Body Contact – Demonstrate that the next step in the front block tackle is to capture, or “lock up,” the ball between the foot of the defender and the foot of the offensive player in order to prepare for winning the ball. Instruct the pairs of players to perform the same timing activity as above but, when contact is made with the ball, to remain in contact with the ball and to simultaneously lean into each other with the proper body contact demonstrated and practiced earlier. Remind the players that they must continue to keep their vision on the ball. Switch the offensive and defensive players and repeat.
Winning the Ball – State to the players that once the ball has been locked up, it now must be won by strength and determination. From a “locked up” position, demonstrate that, while maintaining a forward body-lean into the opponent, the defender forces his foot into the ball in order to create five general options to obtain possession. The first, and preferred, option is to roll the ball over the top of the instep of the opponent’s foot. The second option is to drag the ball under the sole of the opponent’s foot. The third option is to simply force the ball so hard into the offensive player’s foot that, while simultaneously forcing forward with the body contact at the shoulder, the opponent is driven back and the opponent’s leg gives way. The fourth option is to pull the ball around the toes of the opponent’s foot. The fifth option is to push the ball behind the heel of the opponent’s foot, such that it goes between his legs (but this is not recommended at this stage of instruction). Remind the players that once contact is made, the opponent will also be trying to win the ball using these same options. Instruct the pairs to determine who will be on offense and who will be on defense and then to start in the locked-up and body-contact position. Have the offensive player offer token resistance so that the defensive player can practice each of the possible ways to win the ball. Players should be reminded, yet again, not to pull their foot away or to try to kick the ball. Switch the offensive and defensive players and repeat. Switch back and now have the offensive player offer full resistance so that the defensive player can experience what it will really be like to work to win the ball.
Moving Away – State to the players that once the ball has been won, it is extremely important to move away with the ball as quickly as possible. Demonstrate that this keeps the original offensive player from recovering in order to get the ball back. For each of the options, except where the ball was won by going through the legs, the direction taken is generally dependent upon available space. The next dribble may be used to position the body to screen the ball from the player who was just dispossessed. When the ball has been pushed between the opponent’s legs, it should be demonstrated that the ball has to be sent far enough behind the opponent to allow for time to get past him and collect it, but not so far that another opponent can just swoop in and take it away. Instruct the pairs to determine who will be on offense and who will be on defense and then to start in the locked-up and body-contact position. Have the offensive player offer token resistance so that the defensive player can practice each of the possible ways to win the ball and then quickly move away. Switch the offensive and defensive players and repeat.
Putting it all Together – State that the players will now be asked to put all of the pieces together for a successful front block tackle. Demonstrate the entire process again, as performed in the Demonstration of the Objective and End Result section. Instruct the pairs to again choose who will first be on offense and defense. Instruct the players to perform first in “slow motion.” Have the players start on the coach’s signal with the offensive player taking the three dribbles as in the original Demonstration. Switch the offensive and defensive players and repeat. Switch back and perform at “half speed.” Switch the offensive and defensive players and repeat. Switch back and repeat at “three-quarters speed.” Switch the offensive and defensive players and repeat. Switch back and repeat at “full speed.” Remind the players that, once they commit to the tackle, they must go in strong and not give up. Switch the offensive and defensive players and repeat.
Go through the entire process again using the non-dominant feet/legs. Last, but not least, one can go “full live,” where the offensive players have no restrictions and can attempt to get around the defenders. At this stage, remind the offensive players that, if a defender is successful in locking up with them in a front block tackle, both players become equals in trying to win the ball and move away. Coaches must remember that there is evidence that improper tackling may be responsible for the largest percentage of injuries in soccer. Accordingly, tackling must be taught well and practiced repeatedly. If players are colliding with each other, or striking their knees together, then practice needs to be stopped and the positioning and timing corrected.
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