Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Learning When & How to Steal the Ball

In soccer, any type of ball-stealing is usually called "tackling". This can be confusing to Americans because tackling in American-style football involves an attempt to knock the opponent down (which is a major foul in soccer). The mechanics of basic standing soccer tackles are covered in the Practice Plans, and will not be repeated here. We will focus here on when to use those skills - and, more importantly, when not to use them. The first thing to teach defenders is the importance of PATIENCE in the timing of any tackle. The defender will want to try to steer the attacker into the safest space, with the greatest support available, before considering a tackle (unless the attacker makes a major mistake which allows the defender to take the ball back with little risk). Usually, if the defender can delay things long enough, the attacker almost always will make a mistake and allow an opening to an alert defender to steal the ball - or support will arrive which will allow a double team.

It usually is not the time to attempt a tackle when:

  • the defender is not in a good balanced position
  • the attacker is skilled, and is in a balanced position
  • a missed tackle could result in an immediate shot attempt
  • a successful tackle or tackle attempt will not result in gaining possession (i.e., knocking the ball out of play or to another attacker)
  • a successful tackle attempt will not result in an advantage to the team
  • if teammates have not yet moved into position to provide support.

Good opportunities to make a tackle attempt are when:

  • there is a very good chance of gaining possession
  • due to field position and available support, a missed tackle attempt will not put the team in harm
  • the attacker is off-balance or unaware, and the chances of success are good
  • attacker is moving into such a dangerous situation that a failed tackle attempt would be the same as no attempt (tough decision)
  • a teammate is available for a double-team.

When any tackle attempt is made, the defender should commit totally to the ball. If the defender is able to get his support foot beside the ball on the tackle, then the defender in is an great position for making the tackle. If the defender must reach for the ball, then the chances of success are less, and the best the defender often can do is to knock the ball away. This does not necessarily mean that this is a bad choice. There are many times when a defender may wish to knock a ball over the touchline for a throw-in, as this will give time to other teammates to get back to help. And, even in 1 v 1 games, this may allow the defender some extra time to catch his breath. So, while the coach will want to teach ball-winning skills, players also need to be taught when it can be useful to simply knock the ball out. Often, coaches will cover these ideas in basic sessions in defense, with the general rule to get the ball if you can do it safely and to knock it out if you cannot.

Once the defender is in control of the attacker, forcing him in the defender's direction of preference, it is important that the defender continue to maintain a high level of pressure on the attacker. The defender often does not need to confront the attacker with a tackle attempt, until the defensive support is in place and the defender is ready. When in doubt, the best course is usually to delay; use patience; and wait for support and/or an opportunity to arise.

The feint tackle is one way to keep the attacker off-balanced. The defender feints a reach for the ball, yet maintains excellent balance and position. The defender should not actually get caught with the body weight going forward, only the feinting foot.

The attacker will have to react (if there is a reaction) in one of two ways. First, he may protect the ball by pulling it back or stepping in with a shielding motion. Or secondly, he may attempt to push the ball past the defender, assuming that the defender has dived in and is off balance. As a result, in the first case, the defender is forcing the attacker to focus totally on the ball, which cuts down on the attacker's ability to give the ball to a teammate and increases the chances that he can win the ball with heavy pressure. In the second case, the defender has tricked the attacker, and should be in good position to cut-off the attempted pass and may even be able to step between the attacker and the ball.
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