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Youth Defending Exercises

Updated: May 6

This week on the MSC Breakdown, we take a look at how to effective coach the fundamental defensive principles at youth level. Of course, pressure, cover and balance, are key for the players, but for coaches it's important to continually change the picture and teach these concepts in a variety of ways. We explain why in this week's video, as well as looking at specific exercises to communicate these basics. Our ideas extend from the warm up towards two types of competitive games that can potentially add a few more variables to the defensive side of the game.We also have a MSC resource available with 30 High-Intensity MSC Pressing Exercises. Click here to get your copy!!

Below is a YouTube breakdown detailing three exercises. If you enjoy this content, please subscribe to our MSC YouTube page.

Please find the information for all the exercises below, as well as two bonus exercises.

Exercise One: Pressure, Cover Pairs Warm-Up

  • Six players are organized into 3 teams of two

  • Exercise takes place in a 10x20 yard area with two 5-yard end zones

  • Ball starts in the middle with one pair passing the ball into another at the end zone

  • One the ball is passed, the pair then follow and apply 'pressure/cover' principles

  • After defensive players are organized, attackers then play the ball across so that defenders must adapt quickly

  • Keep doing this until coaches signal when attackers play ball across grid and then switch roles and become defenders

  • Game continues to flow and tempo is managed by the coach

Exercise Two: Intercept and Play 2v2 Game

  • Players are organized into two teams, one attacking and one defending

  • Exercise takes place in a 15x20 yard area with one goal

  • Exercise involves two balls

  • Ball One: Coach starts with the ball and passes to the attacking team who must take a touch before passing into nearest ball, placed on top of a cone. Closest defender immediately goes to intercept and weak side defender goes to cover.

  • Ball Two: Coach plays to other attacker and game immediately becomes a 2v2 towards goal

  • If defenders win ball, they can score a point by hitting the cone at the top.

Exercises Three: 1v1 Transition Exercise

  • Players are organized into two teams, one attacking and one defending

  • Exercise takes place in a 15x15 yard area with one 'gate' in each corner

  • One team starts by dribbling towards the gate ahead, with a defender coming over to pressure

  • As soon as the ball is finished, the attacker must transition immediately to become a defender on the other side

  • Game flows quickly with a constant adjustment of attack-defend-recover

  • First team to ten wins!


1v1 Speed Game

  • Players split into two teams

  • Two players start facing each other in a 15x15 yard area with an initial 5 yard zone

  • One player acts as defender, other acts as an attacker

  • The defender must mirror the attackers movements

  • The attacker tries to lose the defender and race to one of the cones at the end

  • If the defender reaches the cone first, they get two points

Numbers Warm-Up

  • Players split into teams of three

  • Cones positioned in three rows of four cones (10 yards apart)

  • Cones are numbered by rows

  • First group goes up and coach calls number of row

  • Defensive group must react quickly and position themselves according to number

  • Three numbers called in total before next group goes

  • Progression: Add numbers for the way back so six in total

If you would like to follow up with Gary Curneen about personal consultation, please email him at:

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