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Swoosh Defense! Can Young Players Learn the Flat Back Four Zone Defense?
I was recently asked, “Coach Hardy, why are you coaching youth football teams?
Play a flat back four zone defence?” Sweepers/
The stopper system is a ‘safe’ defense for young teams. First of all, any protection
It will have strengths and weaknesses. A knowledgeable coach will recognize that
weakness and will encourage their team to overcome it. All disclaimers
As an aside, the flat back four is the preferred system of most modern teams. A
Youth football coaches should focus on player development
A reference to modern soccer.
When executed correctly, a flat back will provide an excellent four
Defensive pressure, cover and balance. Should be a young footballer
Developed to play at their highest possible level and almost all at the highest level
Teams play a flat four or three system. Coaching offers a flat back four protection
Players are the foundation of future success in football. Even a young team like the U11s
A team can successfully play a flat back four zone defense. A team can give up
‘Break-away’ goals in the short term, as they learn the system, but in between
In the long run they will have the ability to confidently step into a modern defence
A team can successfully play flat back four after only some training
session and a handful of games. I use pre-season practice, competition
and the scrimmage as a time for the team to learn player roles and team size
A flat back four zone defense.
To help players visually understand the team size of the defense I
Call it ‘Swoosh’ protection. The back four defenders move left and right
Across the field, the shape of the defense unit resembles the Nike “Swash.”
If the logo is reduced to the size of the players, I can just say “Swoosh” and immediately
Players know where to position themselves. As the players feel comfortable
With the system they will remind each other of the “Swoosh”. Here are the four basics
Ideas to be aware of when training Swoosh protection.
1. Swoosh protection
The back four defensive shape will prevent the other team from happening
Outside defenders on the far side and
The central defender shifts behind the pressing and covers diagonally
A close guard. It sounds complicated but is actually quite simple. The
Defenders move diagonally towards the position of the ball.
With this correct positioning the ‘swash’ defense is denying the ball
Penetrating, marking and covering dangerous attacking players
The defenders will ‘sweep’ any ball that is played. If the ball is switched
On the far side of the field, the four defending players will move the ‘swoosh’
Accordingly, I have found that young players are ‘swoosh!’
More than ‘pressure, cover, balance’.
It is important for players to remember that the diagonal covers the shape
So the team does not need a sweeper. The most common defensive mistake
The team is meant to stand completely ‘flat’. This is especially common in the half field
When the team is in possession of the ball
opponent’s half of the field. Which explains why teams are learning
The Swoosh defense will often give up their goals from half-field breakaways.
If the defenders stand flat in half the field, any ball is played backwards
Defense will result in a goal but a breakaway race without stopping anyone
2. Marking a man in your zone
In addition to the shape of the Swoosh, four defenses must be formed
Information to 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 often watch the ball until the ball is close to them
And only then will they try and get it. But getting the ball is only part of the job
to defend Swash defense requires players to have good defensive posture
Position when marking the opponent ‘goal-side and ball-side’.
Opponents will move into an unmarked position when defenders ‘ball-watch’
The basic rule for position defenders is to mark the most dangerous player
Stay in your zone and ball-side and goal-side.
Break-aways against Swoosh defenses usually occur when a
The defender is “caught flat” and does not react to an open opponent in their zone
until it’s too late. If the defender waits until the pass is played forward
Get to the mark in their zone, then often have a foot race for goal.
90% of good defense is off the ball.
(Note: Another reason I use the word “Swoosh” is because younger players will
(If the defense is called a “flat back four,” stay “flat” more often.)
Watching the ball
This is very common behavior for young soccer players, however, as a defender
Very important condition and the player should be alert and mature enough
No ball clock. Learning to mark properly is a skill that will come along
A commitment to learning.
3. A line of restraint and compactness during transition
The basic principle of good defense is to create ‘compactness’. i
Encourages the defense to create compactness when we transition to the offense or
When the opponent passes the ball back. We do this because (a)
Compressing the space the other team has to work with creates pressure
and (b) we can catch them sideways. I do not encourage a sophisticated off-
The sides tuck under the U14, but will hold up the field to create compactness
Clueless forwards off-sides.
If we act slowly in our own offense (for example, after our
cleared the ball from the defensive third) and our defense just stayed deep
In our own half we are giving the other team a lot of space to move the ball
Back to our goal. The general rule is I coach if the ball goes down the field 5
Yard after yard we’ll move the defense up 5 yards – 20 yards up the field is us
Go 20 yards up the field. This is true until we cross the half field. at half court,
Back four steps a few yards to the opponents half of the field.
Less so if your defense stays behind in your own half
The other team will spend the game in our half with pressure and less pressure.
I believe it is a good idea to try to defend the halfway line rather than your goal.
All of that is the key to successfully compacting space
The defenders must unite. If only one defender stays behind
Other teams will take advantage of that. A line of defenders moving onto the field is called
Our ‘temperance line’. Our goal is not to exceed our ‘Line of Restraint’
35 yards from our forwards until our defenders reached the halfway line.
Again, there is a secondary bonus of compacting space during transit
That the other team is often off-side because their forwards are caught
Stand around after the ball is cleared.
4. Off-sides and referees
A common concern when playing Swoosh defense is refereeing
Can make mistakes with offside calls and make it easy for the other team
As far as the referee missing offsides calls, as far as break-aways, that is the key
The nature of the game. Controlling the controllable is key. We as coaches
We cannot control the decisions of the referee but we can control the ability of the team
There is good positioning and marking. Also, if the team is playing good defense
And if a goal is scored they will not be in a position to allow the referee
Determine the outcome of the game.
In summary, if we train defenders to stay compact in transition, gain
in our perfect ‘Swoosh’ shape, and mark their opponent goal-side and ball-
As an aside, I’m sure a flat back four zone defense can be successful
Even with young teams.
Now my current U11 team is comfortable
Resilient defending, we have shifted to an outside attacking stance
Defenders and their ability to move forward to join the attack.
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