By John Cartwright
Quote: “Winning does not really matter as long as you win.” Vinnie Jones
Coach (A) “ We played some really great football today.”
Coach (B) “Oh, how did you get on?”
Coach (A) “We lost 3-4.”
Coach (B) “Oh you lost!”
Let’s not beat about the bush and be honest; competitive football at all levels is about winning! It may not mean so much at junior levels to lose but it still should hurt.
The attempt to take the issues of winning and losing from the playing equation has proved unsuccessful for both the sport and for the youngsters playing it—how can you tell players not to want to win?
Don’t think I am one of those people who regard winning as the pinnacle of performance, no, in my opinion winning should occur through quality play. The problem we face in this country is the amount of competition without a quality teaching and learning structure to support it. Winning here is more about exiting successfully from a fierce battle than overcoming the opposition with a combination of skill, athleticism and game understanding.
As described in the conversation between the two coaches, it means little to play well and lose. We all should want to play attractive, free-flowing football but to be able to play it and win requires quality coaching throughout the whole development process or all that you get is honest effort as the result.
Winning creates confidence, losing brings anxiety. You lose football matches if the opposition score more goals than you do. Therefore, you must make sure they don’t score goals against you; in a nutshell, you’ve got to defend well.
I don’t intend to cover all aspects of defending but simply address some areas concerning defending that I feel are in need of attention.
As the title states, ‘defending is the foundation of competitive success’. In all competitive sports it is necessary to overcome the opposition, achieve attacking initiative and finish positively. Good defending leading to repossession of the ball is the start of attacking play—unless the ball is regained from the opposition you can’t begin to attack and score to win!
Solidity, when defending is an absolute necessity; gaps that occur in a team creates the likelihood of goals against! From the front of a team to the goalkeeper, all players must possess defensive qualities and know the defensive structure of their team and their role in it. The ‘temperamental star’ player who switches off once he is required to defend is often more of a liability than an asset; there is no reason why playing quality should not include a responsible defensive attitude as well.
All successful teams are capable of defending from the front. This initial ‘first defensive barrier’ is formed by players usually more associated with attacking situations, not defending. However, if these forward players apply themselves properly to their defensive duties they can create a formidable ‘barrier’ to the opposition a considerable distance from their own goal. In so doing, by regaining the ball close to the opponents goal they may have an opportunity to score, otherwise, they are able to supply their own team-mates in deeper playing roles with visual information and time to make decisions on marking and covering positions. ‘Guiding’ opposing attacking players into less dangerous areas often begins at the front of the defending team and supported by colleagues in deeper positions. The question of which way to direct opposing attackers– inside or wide, is a heated subject, each has a plus or minus; my own preference is wide unless reasons dictate otherwise for at worst by forcing an opposing attack wide meant my defenders were usually only required to deal with a cross and not several other options that become available to attackers should they come inside.
Defensive marking at crossing situations is something that playing on the half-turn is all about. So often the position that defenders take up is incorrect for it does not allow the marking defender the ability to see both the ball and his opponent at the same time. Good defenders must always be first to the ball, coming second can mean a goal against and a game lost.
Defending from free-kicks, both from wide positions around the penalty area or from more frontal, direct positions needs to be examined. The quality of the new type of ball and the ability of players to make it swerve, in my opinion makes defensive marking strategies that are still remnants of the past, a problem that needs further examination and improvement.
Tackling has also been an important aspect of the game that has been disregarded. Possibly the better playing surfaces have allowed players to ‘go to ground’ too easily and too often. The real ‘sliding tackle’ has been lost in favour of the ‘jump tackle’ that is often not required or dangerous when used.
Dealing with counter –attacking play is really a lesson in team discipline and organisation. The counter attack will usually create a problem if on losing the ball the defending team has become unbalanced with gaps allowed to occur in their defensive ‘shield’ due to an insufficient number of players positioned incorrectly — too many forward, too few in deeper supporting positions to contain a fast attack by their opponents.
Heading is also another vitally important aspect of the game that has been overlooked here. Being dominant in the air whether in defensive or attacking situations provides a team with defensive strength and offensive variations. Teaching Heading should be a priority and introduced at the right time and with the right methods to our youngsters. Like Tackling, Heading is rarely coached and practiced – lack of players with high levels of ability in these skills is a huge problem for us now and will continue to be in the future.
I have dealt with just some of the things associated with defending – there are many more but time and space need me to end here but I hope that this brief entry into defensive play will be of interest and use to you.
Best regards – win with style. Remember, Pele, did call it, ‘The Beautiful Game’.