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defending the long ball

defending the long ball

Structure is the key. Ensure that there is always a player under the long ball as it drops (in other words, don't let it bounce!), and then instruct other defening players to drop off and pick up covering positions. This gives you the best possible opportunity to deal with the 2nd ball.

There are many answers to this and there are several approaches as well. Are you looking for more skills-based answers, i.e. how to practise defensive headers on long balls? Or are you looking for more tactical awareness in defending the long ball. The second question would then have multiple answers as well and I like to look at it from a team perspective. Many coaches tend to make it a 'back-four' issue in that they have to deal with it. Talking from the perspective of making it a responsibility of the entire team, the first job is to cut out the long ball. You can only do this by defending as a unit and making the opponent's playing area very small. Personally, I do this by defending high up the pitch (but this is a very 'Dutch' disease and we occassionally get punished for it). If you stand too deep, your midfield start swimming in all the space around them and, as a direct result, your strikers will drop to support them. But you want your strikers to be your first line of defence. If you cut out the long ball, there are only two balls that will reach you. The most likely one is the awful one and those are easy to defend. After all, you have more defenders than strikers. Secondly, there is the remarkable ball that simply very good. In this case, you are in danger of losing the ball in a vulnerable position. Make sure, at all times, that your back line isn't too flat. Depending on where the ball is likely to land (or headed), make sure someone is covering the through ball. This is usually a left or right back or a centre back, which makes either wing back a centre back by default. Cut off the most direct route to goal for the runner on the through ball. I have attached a drill that practises, slightly differently, defending the long ball. See how players become aware of their roles and instruct them where necessary. Good luck!

korfball football with scoring headers


Make two rectangular grids of the same size and leave a big rectangular grid empty in the middle. This can be of the same size.

Players must play a 3v1 situation in grid 1 and play an early (lofted) ball to grid 2.

The players in grid 2 must head the ball immediately to the players in the non-grid. If a blue player in the middle catches a ball from a direct header out of grid 2, it is a point for blue.

Should a red player head the ball to a red player in the middle, it is two points to them.

As you're playing 8v4, you can swap teams after a certain amount of time or points.

Coaching Points:
  1. Play the lofted ball early but not too early - no panic balls. Free one player and let him play a controlled pass.
  2. Do not let the ball bounce and control the header so that it reaches a player in the middle.
  3. Red players must defend the balls actively, cutting out long balls and defending them when they arrive by running good angles.

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  • search our library of 500+ football drills
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  • or access our tried and tested plans