10 Best Defensive Soccer Drills (Great for All Ages)

Any soccer team that is strong at the back will have practiced for countless hours on the training field, working on their defense drills.

If you are looking for effective defending drills for you or your team, then I’ve got you covered.

In this article, I’m going to show you my ten favorite defensive soccer drills and take you through each one step-by-step to ensure you get the most out of them.

These drills are selected after years of experience and are ideal for giving you a structured format for improving your defensive capabilities and those of your team.

10 Best Defensive Soccer Drills featured image

List of Defensive Soccer Drills

When you are running through soccer drills for defense, there are several areas you want to focus on.

I’ve done my best to cover these areas in this list of drills below.

A well-rounded approach will almost guarantee you make the best and most productive use of your time.

The most effective defensive soccer drills are:

  1. Headed clearance and dribbling drill
  2. One Vs One drill
  3. Reaction and mental sharpness drill
  4. Positioning and movement drill
  5. Footwork drill
  6. Blocking and interception drill
  7. Tracking the opposition drill
  8. Control and Passing drill
  9. Passing from the back drill
  10. Gameplay drill

(Click on one of the links above to jump to the step-by-step guide for each drill.)

Each of these drills will work well for any age group. Youth teams, U8, U12, or adult teams will all benefit.

You can also have a look at my article – 10 Best Soccer Drills for Beginners – A Step by Step Guide if you’re working with beginners.

Read on for an explanation of how each drill is laid out and what equipment you’ll need before I take you through a step-by-step guide to each individual drill.

How Each Defensive Drill is Laid Out

To make it simple to understand, I’ve started each drill with a brief overview of what is involved and the equipment you’ll need.

Then I’ve given you a video or image of the drill so you can visualize it, followed by a step-by-step run-through of how the drill works.

Equipment You Need for the Drills

Before we look at the drills, I just want to mention one more thing.

You will need two pieces of equipment for most drills – a soccer ball and cones.

Soccer balls and cones for drills
Soccer balls and cones for drills

If you are short of balls or cones, Amazon has a wide selection of options, and I recommend you check out these options for balls or these cones.

Now, let’s look at the ten best defensive soccer drills!

1. Headed Clearance and Dribbling Drill

Heading a soccer ball correctly and effectively is essential to any defender’s skill set.

The correct technique is important if you don’t want to hurt yourself in the process. I explained in detail how to do that in my article – How to Head a Soccer Ball (so it doesn’t hurt!) – if you want to check it out.

If you are using this drill as a youth soccer coach, make sure the kids you are working with are OK to head the ball before using this drill, as some may be too young.

If your players are OK with using their heads, then you want your team to take advantage of this opportunity.

Aim of the drill

The aim of this drill is to improve a player’s heading ability when they are in a defensive position.

Practicing scenarios a player will face in an actual game situation is a helpful way of using drills.

This drill replicates the situation where the ball needs heading out from defense.

Equipment Requirements

For this drill, you will need two soccer balls and three cones.

Headed Clearance and Dribbling soccer Drill
Headed Clearance and Dribbling Drill

Step-by-Step Walkthrough of the Heading Drill

Step 1 – Set up the drill

Place all three cones in a line approximately two yards apart.

Step 2 – Player and coach positions

A player will start by standing at the center cone, directly facing the coach, who will be standing five yards away from the player.

The coach will have two balls, one in their hands and one at their feet.

Step 3 – The player starts moving

At the coach’s “ready,” the player will make a sprint to touch the ball in the coach’s hand and then shuffle back to their mark.

Once back, the coach will then toss the ball in the air toward the player, who will perform an effective and accurate defensive header away.

The coach will immediately pass the second ball into the player’s feet to control and dribble from the center cone to either side of their choosing. The player will then dribble around the cone in a 360-degree motion.

Once back in the center, the player makes a pass back to the coach.

Step 4 – Repeat 

For the drill to be a success, the coach should repeat the drill at least five times and increase the intensity after each rep.

Check out this video below for another great defensive header drill.

Defensive Heading Game
Defensive header drill

This is a great drill to use with high school students. And if you do have a responsibility to coach this age range, I recommend checking out my article – 7 Most Effective Soccer Drills for High School Players

2. One Vs One Drill

Practicing one v one drills is important as players will often face these situations during a game.

Knowing how to negotiate them effectively will give the players an advantage when faced with this scenario.

Aim of the drill

This drill will allow the player to combine all the fundamental steps in defending, such as ball pressure, blocking, tracking back, interception, footwork, and physicality.

Equipment Requirements

The drill is easy to set up.

It requires a ball, two players – one attacking, one defending – four (4) cones, and four (4) discs.

one vs one soccer drill
One vs one soccer drill

Step-By-Step Walkthrough of the Drill:

Step 1 – Set up the drill

Place the four (4) cones in a grid 20×10.

The four (4) discs will make up two goals on either end of the grid. (Picture a smaller version of a soccer field)

Step 2 – Player Position

The defending player will start with the ball at his feet between two cones at one end of the grid.

The offensive player will start between the two discs at the opposite end of the playing area.

Step 3 – Begin the drill

The defensive player will pass the ball to the attacker.

As soon as the ball has left the feet of the defender, the offensive player can come out to meet the ball.

As soon as the attacker touches the ball, the defender will demonstrate applying pressure by closing down on the attacker as quickly as possible.

Step 4 – Continue the drill

The attacker then makes a play for the goal (the discs on either side of the grid).

At this point, the job of the defender is to prevent the attacker from making a successful dribble past the defender and scoring a goal.

The defender should use skills such as blocking, ball pressure, tracking back, interception, and showing physicality in the play (getting close to the player and unbalancing them without fouling the player).

Once the ball goes out of the area marked by the cones, the drill starts again from the beginning.

This video also has some great tips on how to defend one-on-one.

How To Defend In 1v1 Like A PRO
Defending one-on-one tips

3. Reaction and Mental Sharpness Drill

In order to play soccer at the highest level, a player must have fast reaction times and be able to recognize and anticipate situations quickly.  

Keeping a focused mind will make a player more likely to perform well on the field, train hard, and prepare for games. 

Using drills that work on this area of a player’s ability is vital as it is important to have good technical execution of those skills. 

Aim of the drill

This drill will enhance the player’s ability to react quickly to opposing attackers.

Also, it will seek to test their mental sharpness as the drill will be timed for thirty seconds non-stop, where the players are required to follow the coach’s instructions. 

Equipment Requirements

For this drill, you will need four (4) different colored cones, discs, or poles

Reaction and Mental Sharpness Soccer Drill
Reaction and Mental Sharpness Soccer Drill

Step-By-Step Walkthrough of the Drill:

Step 1 – Set up the drill

The coach will need four (4) different cones, discs, or poles to form a 5×5 grid. 

It is important to note that four different colors should be utilized when making the grid. 

Step 2 – Player position

The player should begin the drill by standing in the center of the grid.

Step 3 – Coach issues instructions

The coach will issue instructions as to which poles the player should touch. The idea is that the player should run to touch one of the four poles and then quickly run back to the center. 

Step 4 – Continue the drill

The instructions will be repeated at a varying pace over a 30-second period. The objective is to touch each base on instruction correctly while moving as fast as possible.

Awareness and Decision Making Training | Drills To Improve Mental Sharpness
Mental sharpness drill

4. Positioning and Movement Drill

As a defender, one critical skill is to be able to get into position quickly.

Positioning entails tracking the attacker’s movements as they carry the ball toward the goal, accounting for any sprint or driving action toward the goal, and positioning yourself appropriately to eliminate the threat.

This is key in determining when to intercept passes or make a defensive play.

This drill seeks to improve a defensive player’s ability to move quickly while maintaining a defensive stance.

Because of the importance of this skill, this is an ideal drill to use with youth soccer teams that are learning the game and developing habits.

But works well at any age.

Aim of the drill

There are several takeaways from this drill:

  • It sharpens a player’s movement, 
  • It challenges a player to move quickly,
  • It challenges a player to move accurately,
  • It improves a player’s ability to run backward

Equipment Requirements

For this drill, you will only need six cones

Positioning and movement soccer drill
Positioning and movement soccer drill

Step-By-Step Walkthrough of the Drill:

Step 1 – Set up the drill

Place five (5) cones in the shape of a cross.

This means three (3) cones are placed vertically while the other two cones run horizontally in line with the center cone. Each should be placed five steps from the center cone. 

Step 2 – Player Position

The player will start at the top of the cross-shape drill in a defensive stance.

Step 3 – Begin the drill

  • The player will shuffle back toward the center cone (moving hands and feet while crouching).
  • Once at the center, the player will shuffle to the left or right, back to the center, and then move to the other side.
  • Once both sides are completed from the center cone, the player will continue the movement to the final cone at the end of the cross shape.
  • Once at the last cone, the player will sprint back to the top of the cross shape or the starting cone.

Step 4 – Repeat as required

This completes one full rep, but the drill can be repeated as many times as appropriate.

The player should attempt to avoid touching the cones and start the drill from the beginning if they touch the cones.

If you are looking for recommendations for drills for other players on the field, check out my article regarding the top 8 drills for midfielders for more inspiration.

5. Footwork Drill

While several technical skills are needed to become a great soccer player, footwork is one of the most important.

Good footwork is necessary for the player to control the ball in all situations, from running to dribbling.

Proper footwork allows players to respond to their opponents and control the ball at speed. Learning how to control the ball with ease and grace is essential as a player.

It can also help to control the ball and touch it around the goalkeeper for a winning goal.

Aim of the drill

For this drill, players will look to improve footwork while moving at speed.

The key thing to look at is the player’s reaction time.

The drill can be done simultaneously in groups or individually.

Equipment Requirements

The coach will need six(6) discs or cones for this drill.

Footwork Soccer Drill
Footwork Soccer Drill

Step-By-Step Walkthrough of the Drill:

Step 1 – Set up the drill

The coach will need six (6) discs. Four of the discs must be of the same color.

The coach will select a marked or unmarked area to start while placing the first four (4) discs horizontally, with each two (2) steps apart.

The fifth (5) disc will be placed five (5) steps away from the fourth, and the sixth (6th) disc will be placed seven steps away from the fifth(5th) – all on the same straight line. 

Step 2 – Player position

The player(s) will have to line up a short distance from the first cone.

Step 3 – Begin the drill

The player(s) should make a short sprint toward the first cone.

Upon reaching the first disc, the player will do a complete 360 around the disc in a shuffle motion – rapidly moving hands and feet while going around the disc.

After completing the 360 shuffles around the disc, the player will sprint to the other three cones of the same color and repeat the shuffle motion. 

Step 4 – Continue the drill

Once the player(s) reaches the fourth, moving to the fifth, the player will make a sharp sprint to the fifth disc.

They should stop in a defensive stance for three (3) seconds, then sprint to the sixth and final disc as hard as possible.

Step 5 – Repeat the drill

The player will return to the start and go again, repeating all the steps.

Each set completed equates to a full rep. 

Check out this video below for more drills that will improve your footwork with the ball.


For more soccer drills to improve your footwork, check out my article – 10 Soccer Ball Control and Footwork Drills (For All Ages)

6. Blocking and Interception Drill

In soccer, it is important to be aware of where your opponents are and where the ball is on the field. This way, you have a better chance of blocking or intercepting the ball when it comes near you.

Sometimes, interception is as easy as moving into the gap between the player and the ball. (This is more challenging if the ball is far away). Sometimes it requires quick movement and a stretch of the leg.

Either way, blocking and interception can make all the difference in a game as your teams retake possession of the ball and potentially prevent the opposition from scoring a goal.

Aim of the drill

This drill will aid the players’ ability to block or limit their opponents’ movements successfully.

After successfully mastering the art of anticipation, the coach will introduce a ball so that players can simulate a real game situation. 

The key here is to have the player block on the ‘inside’ – somewhere between the two points of the discs – in an effort to protect the goal. 

Equipment Requirements

  • Two discs
  • One cone
Blocking and Interception soccer drill
Blocking and interception soccer drill

Step-By-Step Walkthrough of the Drill:

Step 1 – Set up the drill

This drill requires a cone and two discs to make a triangle – the cone will form the point of the triangle, which is the starting point of the drill.

Essentially, the cone represents the goal. Two different color discs will serve as the base of the triangle.

Place them five meters apart to form the base of the triangle.

Step 2 – Player Position

The players will begin at the starting point (cone).

The coach will guide the player(s) through the drill by calling out which color disc the player should move to in a defensive blocking motion. 

This will be a timed drill of thirty seconds per rep. In other words, the players are expected to move quickly to each disc when the color is called out and then back to the cone after imitating a blocking motion. 

Step 3 – Begin the drill

The first runs of the drill are done without the ball, and the next steps are to incorporate the ball.

The coach will repeat the same instructions, and the player is expected to repeat the actions.

Once the player reaches a disc, they pass toward the player, who performs a blocking motion by intercepting the pass.

The player will pass back the ball, and the drill will continue to run for thirty seconds per rep.

Step 4 – Optimize the drill

The key to making the drill effective is randomly calling the colors and gauging the player’s ability to react quickly toward making a block to protect the goal.

This video below is great for understanding more about how to intercept the ball during a game.

Intercepting Coaching Session | Lee Brown's Coach's Cut | England Football Learning

If you’re a coach at any level, I recommend also checking out my article –

10 Best Soccer Coaching Drills: Perfect for Practice Sessions.

7. Tracking the Ball Drill

As a defender, following the opposition players and the ball is essential to prevent your team from conceding a goal.

If the defender gets distracted for a moment or loses sight of their opponent, they will fail at one of their most important jobs.

Aim of the drill

The aim of this drill is to give a player confidence in their ability to track a ball in their zone of the field.

Equipment Requirements

The setup for this drill requires four (4) discs or cones and a ball.

Tracking the soccer ball drill
Tracking the soccer ball drill

Step-By-Step Walkthrough of the Drill:

Step 1 – Set up the drill

Place each cone in a grid of 12×12

Step 2 – Player positions

The player will stand on one side of the grid, and the coach will stand on the other, facing the player.

The player can be on the right or left side of the grid, with the cones as the starting point. It doesn’t matter which side they start on.

Step 3 – Begin the drill

As soon as the coach shouts, “begin,” the player sprints to one of the cones on either side of them and touches it with their hand.

As the player sprints toward the cone, the coach will roll the ball down the inside of the grid toward the opposite cone.

The player is expected to make a sharp turn around the cone and run across the grid, tracking the ball and intercepting it before it reaches the cone on the other side.

Step 4 – Repeat the drill

The drill should be repeated at least ten times.

This video also gives more ideas on how to teach your players to track their opponents effectively.

SoccerCoachTV - Man City Tracking Players Drill.

8. Control and Passing Drill

Controlling the ball and passing it is a fundamental aspect of soccer play. At a minimum, players in all positions should have an understanding of controlled passing.

The drill involves different aspects of controlled passing and can entail two players or a single player and the coach.

Aim of the drill

This drill aims to improve players’ ability to control and pass the ball during a game.

Equipment Requirements

This drill requires only a ball and two players.

Control and passing soccer drill
Control and passing soccer drill

Step-By-Step Walkthrough of the Drill:

Step 1 – Set up the drill

Two players will face each other while standing five steps apart.

The first rep of this defensive drill will entail a combination of left-foot and left-foot passes only, right-foot and right-foot passes, and then a mixture of left-foot and right-foot passes.

One rep is equated to 30 seconds on each leg for all stages of the drill.

Step 2 – Begin the first rep of the drill

First, the two players will pass the ball between them using only their left feet. They will control the ball before passing it back to the opposite player.

Next, they will control and pass the ball using their right foot and then use a mixture of left-foot and right-foot passes.

Step 3 – Next Rep

For the next rep, the ball will be lobbed, and the player is expected to control it with the left or right thigh and then make a pass with the corresponding foot – 30 seconds for the left and right side.

Step 4 – Next Rep

For the next step, the ball will be lobbed toward the chest. The player is expected to control the ball with the chest and make a pass with the right or left foot for 30 seconds.

Step 5 – Final Rep

For the next step, the ball will be lobbed toward the head. The player is expected to use his head to pass the ball for 30 seconds.

Each rep will be 30 seconds. 

Completion of all reps/stages equates to one set.

In this video, you will also find some more passing and receiving drills you can incorporate into your training sessions.

5 Essential Passing and Receiving Drills | Training Drills To Improve First Touch & Passing Skills

I find this is a great drill to help youth players become comfortable with the ball. Check out my article – 9 Fun (and Effective) Youth Soccer Drills For Kids – if you work with this age range.

9. Passing from the Back Drill

Modern-day defensive players are not just required to be robust and intimidating.

They must also possess the ability to stay calm under pressure and make accurate passes from the back of the field when they have possession of the ball.

Passing accurately helps the team maintain possession of the ball, start a counterattack, and potentially create scoring opportunities for their team.

Aim of the drill

To increase a player’s confidence and ability to pass the ball from the back of the field successfully.

Equipment Requirements

For this drill, one will need three (3) discs, four (4) cones, and a minimum of six (6) balls.

Passing from the Back soccer drill
Passing from the Back soccer drill

Step-By-Step Walkthrough of the Drill:

Step 1 – Set up the drill

Place the discs in an inverted triangle, with the players starting at the point of the triangle.

Use the cones to form a grid.

Two of the cones will be in line with the base of the triangle 30×15. Meaning the cones will create two points on either side of the discs.

The other two cones will be placed on the opposite end to complete the grid. 

Step 2 – Begin the drill

The coach will instruct the player to make sharp passes.

The coach will stand at one of the cones in line with the two discs. For example, he stands at the cone to the left with a ball, ready to make a play.

From the starting point, the player will run toward the coach, standing at the cone toward the left.

The coach will make a pass to the player. 

The player is expected to pass the ball back immediately to the coach and run toward the center of the two discs. 

Step 3 – Next stage of the drill

At the center of the discs, the player will receive another pass and make a sharp turn toward the left.

At this point, the player is expected to make a quick pass with the aim of hitting the cone to the left. 

Ideally, the play can be made from either the left or the right.

The key is for the player to move quickly and make short passes accurately.

Step 4 – Change up the drill

Once the short pass is mastered, the goal is to make long passes using the same movements.

The player will aim to hit the cones at either side’s top of the grid.

The video below shows more examples of how to play out from the back.

How to play out from the back | Soccer drill | Tactics | Nike Academy

Playing out from the back is the perfect way to start an attack on the opposition’s goal. Check out my article – 10 Soccer Attacking Drills: Improve Your Chance of Winning – for more drills to improve your team in this area.

10. Gameplay Drill

This is a simulation of game situations that the defender will more likely come across.

Training with real game scenarios is a great way for players to get used to what they need to do during a game.

Aim of the drill

The aim of this drill is to give a defender the opportunity to experience a real game situation and become confident in dealing with the situation before them.

Equipment Requirements

Either the penalty area of a soccer field or four discs and two cones. You will also need a few soccer balls.

Gameplay soccer drill
Gameplay soccer drill

Step-By-Step Walkthrough of the Drill:

Step 1 – Set up the drill

It is ideal to utilize the 18-yard box with a goal in place; if not, a grid of 20×30 will have to be set up with a goal structure at the base of the grid.

Step 2 – Positions for the drill

The coach will stand at the penalty spot with a ball in his hand, and the defender will start by standing on the goal line.

Step 3 – Begin the drill

The player will sprint to the ball and touch it. 

The player will then backpedal to the goal line.

Step 4 – Continue with the next phase of the drill

The coach will then lob the ball while the player is backpedaling, and the defender will do his best to head the ball away from the goal.

Essentially, the ball is being lobbed toward the goal, and the defender is expected to make a headed clearance.

Step 4 – Last phase of the drill

Once cleared, the player must sprint past the coach to receive a pass that he plays through a gate at the edge of the D. 

The player will then sprint through the gate in a 180-degree motion, where he is expected to turn and run back toward the penalty spot to perform an attacking header to score a goal.

This header should be made from a lob pass from the coach.

For more drills, check out these list of drills I have put together:

Ben Clayfield

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Find out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

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