Defending is football too.

In this information age, a football player that wants to improve gets on YouTube and watches clips showing what she/he can practice. It’s usually fancy tricks with the ball.

The podcast about laws of the game: worry for football in Uganda.

Sometimes, the player will capture a video of themselves practicing to show off what they can do with the ball but that’s not competitive football, perhaps freestyle football.

Football has two main principles; defending and attacking.

These principles show that; if a player/team has possession of the ball then they are attacking, if the player/team doesn’t have the ball then they are defending.

That statement shows that if you don’t have the ball then you defend to avoid conceding a goal.

It also shows that if you defend well then you can get the ball and attack.

People will tell you how they played or watched a football match but apparently, the team that had the most possession is the one that played but defending is football too. The team without or less possession is playing too.

The recently concluded 2018-19 English Premier League (EPL) season showed that defenders or defending can be recognized.

A good defending performance can be as good as an attacking performance.

Virgil Van Dijk was named Player’s Player of the season after fellow players voted him.

He’s not the first defender to win that award but it’s good to see a shift in mindset to show that defending is football too.

Manchester City won the league title with a consistently 9/10 performance from Benardo Silva.

The attacking midfielder from Portugal is known for dribbling but had one of the most successful tackles and ball recoveries throughout the season.

He also recorded the longest distance covered, a staggering 13.9 km in a match against Liverpool.

A clear indication that his defensive abilities are very good something that helped him compete for a position ahead of more established players in the Man City squad.

It’s good to see that in the recently concluded 2018-19 Uganda Premier League (UPL), goalkeepers and defenders were able to take home the man of the match award even better, Mike Mutebi the head coach of UPL champions KCCA FC says that Timothy Awany was the club’s best player during the 2018-19 season.

Football coaches in Uganda have a habit of separating football. They restrict defensive players to practice only defensive work, attacking players to practice only attacking work. This habit has reached, underage football, players as young as 10 years old have already been classified as either defenders or attackers.

Coaches have made players believe that as a defender you shouldn’t have any business using the ball, attacking players have been made to believe they have no business working to defend.

With this upbringing, Uganda is now filled with the majority of players not having the ability to function on the field when the demand is to defend and attack. Most of the players can only do one football function.

Perhaps it also explains why most goalkeepers are still struggling with being comfortable with the ball at their feet.

Worryingly though it explains why in Ugandan football when a team is defending, the pitch will be usually split into one part of the team defending while the other part of the team waits for the ball (seems like we are stuck in the past).

Players that are very good at attacking the aerial ball with the head will rarely fall back to defend set-pieces.

Defenders that are good at defending aerial balls with the head will rarely be a threat when attacking set-pieces.

The current trend in football is that every player on the pitch should be useful when their team is either attacking or defending.

Wide defenders have many assists after arriving in the attacking third of the pitch while many wide attackers will be in the defensive third when out of possession.

Lionel Messi is a wonderful tackler, Christiano Ronaldo has many defensive headed clearances from set-pieces and of course, Vincent Kompany came up with a wonderful goal, shooting from distance to keep Man City in control of the EPL title hunt.

The best two goals at the 2018 FIFA world cup came from two central defenders (Pavard and Nacho) playing as wide defenders.

This ability in those players shows they were taught all football skills at a young age something that needs to be done by football coaches in Uganda or else the margin to professional football will keep getting bigger.

For all young players that intend to impress as footballers, defending is football too.

Learning how to do both defending and attacking is one of the things football scouts observe in a player.

Disclaimer: The writer has nothing against freestyle football.


The 10,000 hours’ myth in football practice.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outlier: The story of success, he states that, “it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill.” Gladwell’s statement is based on research done by Professor Anders Ericsson.

In Uganda, coaches and players have practised this theory but struggle to perform with consistency at a high level.

The 10,000 hours’ practice research was performed on a violinist but, playing a violin and football are very different activities.

Football is a multi-directional sport that requires a lot more than executing football skills to perform very well.

During a football match, football skills are executed under physical, tactical, and mental challenges concerning; the ball, the space, the teammate, the opponent, the state of play, and the area of the pitch.

These challenges differ according to the quality of opponents and teammates.

Quality opponents limit time while quality teammates demand urgency and accuracy.

For example; travelling with the ball is; dribbling and/or running with the ball.

Dribbling is moving with the ball while keeping it close to the foot and is usually applied after determining that a player needs to create space to move the ball, requires support or protect the ball from the opponent, however, this has to be in the area of the pitch that limits the risk of losing possession and the state of play.

“Practice makes permanent but proper practice makes perfect.”

10,000 hours of practising football skills will not count if the practice isn’t executed properly, not deliberate, and lacks the quality to be football-specific.

Football skills are poorly practiced in isolation without considering the physical, tactical, and mental demands that affect their application.

Practicing dribbling through markers might lead to players struggling to travel with the ball because, during a football match, travelling with the ball will require;

1. Physical demands like agility involve the flexibility of the ankle joint, footwork speed, balance, acceleration, deceleration, and body feints.

2. Tactical demands like deciding when to dribble or run with the ball.

3. Mental demands like the confidence to be aggressive with executing the skill and to avoid arrogance when the skill is executed properly.

The proper football-specific practice to perfect travelling with the ball should include the tactical, physical, and mental demands then progressing the practice to increase the challenge.

Ask the following questions;

What is the current ability of the player?

How can we measure progress?

How do we know that a skill has been mastered?

Do we challenge space and time during practice?

Does the practice place players in unfavourable conditions?

Having to use the weak foot?

There are creative ways that make football practice to have challenges that would enable players to master football skills that serve the purpose of football.

Depending on the stage of football development, it’s important to design deliberate football-specific practice sessions that challenge the player’s comfort zone and to emphasize competing against themselves.

That’s when it will be possible to realize the benefits of the 10,000 hours to perfection in football.

Football: Roles in attack.

When a team is in possession of the ball, it’s the attacking team. All players involved in the attack have roles to play.

The roles in attack are; Player on the ball (first attacker), supporting player (second attacker) and unbalancing player (third attacker).

Its important for football players to be taught the roles in attack after understanding principles in attack.

The player on the ball (first attacker): this the player in possession of the ball also known as the first attacker.

The role of the first attacker is to maintain possession of the ball then determine if penetration is possible by playing the ball forward.

This might be throwing, passing the ball forward, shooting or traveling with the ball to commit space.

In some cases, its possible for the first attacker to improvise by using creativity to beat a defender if faced with a 1 vs 1 situation.

Supporting player (second attacker): these are the players within one pass from the player on the ball.

They offer support by making sure they create the appropriate distance and angle to receive the ball.

The basic way of offering support to the player on the ball is being positioned forward, sideways and backward depending on the position of the player on the ball.

The more support offered to the player on the ball, the more threatening the attack will be.

Unbalancing player (third attacker): this’ the player that is usually more than one pass away from the player on the ball. The unbalancing player has to keep getting in positions that unsettle the opposition defense by moving off the ball to occupy dangerous space or moving the defenders with you to create space for other attackers.

Roles in attack are performed in relation to the principles of attack.

The player on the ball will use penetration or improvisation, the supporting players offer support while the unbalancing player offers width and mobility.

It’s important for all players to learn football attacking skills like shooting, traveling with the ball, attacking headers, passing and having excellent ball trapping skills because at any point they could be the first attacker, second attacker or third attacker.

“In Ugandan football, we have a challenge of players in the attacking team all getting attracted to the ball, all of them verbally asking for the ball and all of them wanting to be on the ball at the same time.”

Ben Mwesigwa

Its important for coaches to teach players how to understand that during an attack, all players have a role to play either on the ball or off the ball.

The players off the ball greatly help the player on the ball when they make the right actions in relation to the roles in attack.

Example: Belgium Vs Japan at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Please observe the following; What does the Belgian goalkeeper do when he gains possession of the ball?

How does Kevin De Bruyne react to get the ball?

What does De Bruyne do when he is on the ball?

What did Hazard, Meunier, Chadli and Lukaku do as De Bruyne travels with the ball?

What did Lukaku do for Chadli to score?

Football players that have been coached to understand the roles in attack will construct attacks with efficiency.

They will mostly take advantage of situations in which they you have more attackers against defenders.

Principles of attack in football.

A principle is a known way of behavior.

It should be DELIBERATELY taught so that an individual knows and understands what, when, where, why, and how to behave.

Attacking in football is best understood and efficient when player(s) as an individual or group understand how to apply the principles of attack.

These are; penetration, mobility, width, depth (support), and improvisation.

Penetration is moving the ball forward. The moment a player gets the ball, the first choice should be to determine if penetration can be achieved by passing forward, shooting, dribbling, and running with the ball forward.

Mobility is when players move to create space.

A player on the ball can apply mobility by dribbling or running with the ball to commit available space.

Players off the ball should move to destabilize the opposition’s defense, avoid being marked and create space for themselves or their teammates.

Width is using the whole pitch from left to right.

Players in the attacking team should ensure to spread out to make it hard for opposition players to mark them out of the game.

Width helps the attacking team to stretch the opposition’s defense which creates space for the attacking players to penetrate.

Depth (Support): players in the attacking team need to support the player on the ball.

The most important aspect of supporting a player on the ball is the angle, speed (timing), and distance of support.

Distance has to be appropriate, not too short to be closed down by one player, and not too far to make it easy to intercept.

The correct angle of support is making it easier and possible for the ball to get to you within one pass.

Speed of support is taking up supporting positions for the player on the ball in the shortest time possible.

Depth can also be achieved by offering support using the length of the pitch.

“Supporting is one of the most misunderstood principles as most players think that it’s coming closer to the player on the ball.

Improvisation is where a player on the ball needs to come up with a way to mount a successful attack and get out of trouble.

It includes dribbling in 1v1 situations, and buying a foul (which comes with experience), it’s mainly players being creative and applying ‘tricks’.

It can also be applied by teammates in the attacking team using combinations like 1-2 passing, wall pass, or the third man running off the ball.

Football players that have been taught and understand the principles of attack will find it easy to perform the roles of attack during a football match.

It’s important for all players to be taught the attacking skills in football.

These include; Shooting, passing, receiving the ball in all ways, attacking headers, and traveling with the ball because without learning those skills it is almost impossible to execute the principles of attack.

It’s important for players to be coached on how to understand and be able to interpret when in the game a particular principle of attack can be applied.

Football: Roles in defense.

When a team is not in possession of the ball, it’s the defending team.

All players in the defending team should be able to help out with defensive duties.

The roles in defense are; pressuring defender (first defender), covering defender (second defender) and the balancing defender (third defender).

Its important that football players are taught the roles of defending after understanding principles of defending.

Pressuring defender (first defender); this’ the player closest to the ball, the role of the first defender is to apply pressure on the ball.

Pressing the ball helps to delay the attackers by denying penetration, forces them into mistakes and if possible then wins the ball to regain possession.

The pressuring defender’s other roles include selecting the proper angle and speed of challenging for the ball.

Covering defender (second defender); this’ the player closest to the pressuring defender.

The second defender’s role is to offer cover to the pressuring defender.

The covering defender should always be positioned between the pressuring defender and the goal they are defending.

The distance has to be appropriate enough to enable the covering defender to react fastest to the ball in case the pressuring defender is beaten.

The covering defender should be able to communicate verbally with the pressing defender.

“A good defender is verbally loud.”

Balancing defender (third defender); The role of the third defender is to balance the defense by maintaining compactness or tracking attackers running off the ball.

The balancing defender should be able to maintain sight of the ball, have a clear vision of the whole pitch and to communicate verbally with the covering defender.

The roles performed by defending players are within the principles of defending. The pressuring defender performs immediate chase or delays the attacker. The covering defender offers depth while the balancing defender creates compactness.

It’s very important for all players to be capable of executing football defensive skills because at one point they will find themselves defending as a first, second or third defender.