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In introducing the first series, ‘Attacking Principles’, I discussed my preference when developing coaching education to focus on the o!ensive and defensive principles of the game.

Transferability of knowledge between sports such as Basketball, American Football, Rugby and Soccer is significant. Establishing an in-house coaching education program based on Attacking and Defending Principles of Play can provide a Director/Educator with an ideal framework to deliver meaningful training building upon (for most people) prior knowledge and experiences.

Principles of play are the underpinning concepts of the game and can be coached from the first stage of development (3-5 year old players) onwards.

The principles should not be confused with systems of play – the formation of the team on the field. The principles of play are the same in any system of play. In this series we focussed on defending.

As coaches, we should consider time spent training defending technique to be as equally important as time devoted to improving attacking.

Although often not as appealing for the players, raising defending performance of individuals, small groups and teams is imperative to long lasting success.

One could argue that current top teams in world soccer such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Chelsea, are built on well-organized defensive schemes providing the springboard for attack. In this series we benefited from the collective experience of 3 presenters working daily with top talented youth players in MLS academies. Interestingly, Justin, Ricky and Mike emphasized the importance of working with players on 1v1 defending technique – considerable repetition and reinforcement required.

This type of training can commence with 4-5 year old players – fundamental appreciation of their positioning in relationship to the opponent, ball and goal. The 1v1 training environment is perfect for developing techniques and confidence on ‘both sides of the ball’. A coach can make defending very enjoyable for players by adding competition, objectives and targets.

The presenters introduced several 2v1 and 3v2 activities where the emphasis and focus can be changed by adding conditions, increasing or decreasing the playing area and make subtle changes to the players starting positions. Knowing how best to manipulate the training environment and draw out the best from players is something that comes from experience, education and experimentation.

Listening to Ian, Justin, Ricky and Mike describe in detail what they expect to see from players during an activity and how they respond with instruction and demonstration, is ‘the art of coaching’ in action. Mike was able to add some ‘French flavor’ to the presentation having participated in a French Football Federation course in during the past 12-18 months. One comparison he referred to is the number of principles.

In USA we generally refer to 5 Attacking and 5 Defending Principles, but in France they identify 13 attacking and 10 defending (see Mike Smith’s section for a full list).

In the table below are the 5 defending principles, namely, pressure, cover, balance, compactness, control and restraint.

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