Most Goals Scored In A Single World Cup Tournament Swoosh Defense! Can Young Players Learn the Flat Back Four Zone Defense?

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Swoosh Defense! Can Young Players Learn the Flat Back Four Zone Defense?

I was recently asked, “Coach Hardy, why do you coach youth football teams

to play a flat back four zone defence?” The perception is that a sweeper/

a stopper system is a ‘safer’ defense for younger teams. First of all, any protection

she will have her strengths and weaknesses. A knowledgeable coach will know those

weaknesses and will encourage their team to break them. All disclaimers

aside, the flat back four is the preferred system of most modern teams. A

a youth soccer coach should emphasize the development of players within the

the context of modern football.

When executed properly, a flat back four will deliver excellent

protective weight, cover and balance. Young football players should be

develop to play at their highest potential level and almost all higher levels

teams play a flat four or three system. Coaching a flat back four defense gives

players are the foundation for football success in the future. Even a team as young as U11

a team can play a flat back four zone defense successfully. A team can quit

‘cut off’ goals in the short term, while they learn the system, but in the

in the long term they will have the ability to step confidently into a modern defensive field

system.

A team can successfully play a flat back four after just a little practice

sessions and a handful of games. I use the practices before the season, tournaments

and scrimmages as a time for a team to learn player roles and team shape

from a flat back four zone defence.

To help players visually understand the shape of the defense team

call it the ‘Swoosh’ defense. As the four back defenders move left and right

across the field, the shape of the defensive unit looks like the Nike “Swoosh”

logo. If the players drift out of shape I can say “Swoosh” and immediately

the players know where to position themselves. As the players feel comfortable

with the system they will remind each other to “Swoosh”. Here are four basics

ideas to be aware of when training Swoosh defense.

1. Swoosh Defense

The defensive back four will prevent the other team from getting

‘cut off chances’ by making sure that the far side outside defender and the

far side central defender shift and cover diagonally behind the squeeze

near side defenders. It sounds complicated but it’s actually quite simple. The

defenders move diagonally to the position of the ball.

With the correct position the ‘Swoosh’ defense denies the ball

penetration, the dangerous attacking players are marked and the cover

defenders will ‘sweep’ any ball that is played through. If the ball is replaced

to the far side of the field, the four defensive players will move the ‘Swoosh’

accordingly. I have found that young players can remember ‘Swoosh!’

more than ‘Weight, Cover, Balance’.

It is important for players to remember that the shape of the cover is diagonal

that’s why the team doesn’t need a sweeper. The most common defensive mistake

is for the team to stand completely ‘flat’. This is particularly common in the midfield

line when the team with the ball has been maintaining possession in the

opponent’s half of the field. Which explains why teams that learn the

The Swoosh defense will usually give up their goals from the half-court breaks.

If the defenders are standing flat on half field then any ball would play behind the

defense will lead to a breakaway race with no one to stop a goal but the

goalkeeper

2. Marking A Man In Your Zone

In addition to the Swoosh shape, the four defenders need to come

aware of the attacking player in their area of ​​responsibility. Young players

often focus all their attention on the ball. This bad habit is called ‘ball’

watching’. Young players will often watch a ball until the ball comes close to them

and only then will they try to get it. But getting the ball is only part of the job

of protection. Swoosh defense requires players to be in good defense

position when marking ‘goal side and ball side’ on the opponent.

When defenders ‘watch the ball’, opponents will move in unmarked

jobs. The basic rule for defenders is to mark the most dangerous player in

your zone and stay ball side and goal side of them.

The breaches against the Swoosh defense usually occur when a

defender is “caught flat” and does not respond to the open opponent in their zone

until it’s too late. If a defender waits until after the pass is played on to

move towards the mark in their zone then there is often a foot race to the goal.

90% of good defense is positioning away from the ball.

(Note: Another reason I use the term “Swoosh” is because young players will

often stays “flat” if the defense is called a “flat back four”.)

Watch a ball

is quite normal behavior for young football players, however, a defender is a

very important situation and that player must be alert and mature enough to

not watching ball. Learning to mark correctly is an acquired skill

commitment to learning.

3. Line of Suspension And Strength During Transition

The basic principle of good defense is to create ‘compactness’. i

encourage the defense to create brevity when we transition to offense or

when the opponent passes the ball backwards. We do this because (a)

compressing the space the other team has to work with creates pressure

and (b) we can catch them from the side. I do not encourage sophistication off-

sides trap under U14, but moving up the field to create compactness will still

unconscious from the outside to the side.

If we are slow in our own transition to crime (for example, after we

just cleared the ball from the defensive third) and our defenders stay deep

in our own half, then we give the other team a lot of space to move the ball

back towards our goal. The general rule I coach is if the ball goes up the 5 pitch

yards then we move the defense up 5 yards – 20 yards up the field meaning we

move 20 yards upfield. This is true until we cross half field. At half-field,

the back four steps a few yards into the opposition’s half of the field.

If our defense stays back in our own half of the field then there is less

pressure and with less pressure the other team will spend the game in our half.

I believe it is a better idea to try and defend the halfway line than your goal.

The key to successfully compressing the space is that each of the

defenders must move up together. If only one defender stays back then the

another team will take advantage of that. The line of defenders is called moving up the field

our ‘Hotline’. Our aim is to have our ‘Stop Line’ no more than

35 yards from our forwards until our defenders reach the halfway line.

Again, a secondary bonus of compressing the space during the transition is

that the other team is often out of position because their forwards are caught

stand around after the ball has been cleared.

4. Off Sides And Referees

A common concern when playing Swoosh defense is that referees

can make mistakes with the off0sides call and the other team will be easy

cut off As far as the referees missing offside calls, well, that’s the

the nature of the game. The key is to control the controllables. As coaches, we are

can’t control the referee’s decisions but we can control the team’s ability to

have good location and marking. Furthermore, if a team plays good defense

and scores goals then they will not be in a position that will allow the referee to do

determine the outcome of the game.

In summary, if we train to have compact defenders in transition, we get

in our very ‘Swoosh’ shape, and mark the goal side and their opponent’s ball

side, then I am confident that the flat back four zone defense can be successful

even with young teams.

Now that my current U11 team is comfortable with the

Swoosh defense, we have moved on to the outside attacking role

defender and their ability to move forward to join the attack.

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