Soccer Tips: Fundamentals of Zonal Defending

Zonal defending is a type of defense where defenders are assigned a position rather than a player. This Pro Tip will give you a basic intro to zone defense.

Defensive strategies may vary from team to team. While some may implement a man-to-man defense where each defender is assigned a player to guard, others may focus on zone defense. Zone defense has defenders stay between the ball and the goal in a specific area relative to their teammates.

Division I Women’s Head Soccer Coach Randy Waldrum shares his tips on how to teach zonal defending from the beginning stages. This involves a two-on-two activity with two attackers and two defenders. Let’s look at the roles of the defenders.

FIRST DEFENDER

When the attack starts, the defender closest to the ball will be considered the first defender or pressuring player. It’s that player’s responsibility to close the space as quickly as possible so they can get pressure on the ball.

As they approach the attacker, the defender must be in control of their body so that the attacker can’t make a simple move and use their momentum to beat the first defender easily.

SECOND DEFENDER

The second defender will come in slightly behind the first defender at an angle to provide cover. This way, if the first defender is beaten off the dribble, the second defender can slide over and pick up that space. As a result, the players would then switch roles, with the second defender becoming the first.

CHANGING ROLES 

Once positions have been established, it’s now the defenders’ jobs to track runs. In a zone defense, the defenders are always tracking vertical runs. But when it comes to horizontal runs, the defenders look to pass on to their defensive counterpart.

Defenders never want to cross over zones to stay with their original attacker. When an attacker gets near the second zone, the second defender simply becomes the first defender. In other words, the roles change.

“The second defender steps up as the pressing player, and that first defender will now become the cover player, so it almost looks like a ladder. One steps, one drops. One steps, one drops,” Waldrum says.

With enough practice, zone defending can quickly become your comfort zone on the field.

For more soccer tips, check out these guides to third player movements and receiving the ball under pressure.