What ‘Makes’ a Great Defender


Defending is really simple, it mainly relies on mental skills with just a handful of technical skills and physical skills. The great thing about mental skills is you can learn them from watching others, once you’re aware of them you can do them to an extent, you’ll still need to break down the steps (which is what this blog is for) and practise things like timing, but it’s relatively simple and just knowing them will improve your game.


Here’s a list of Mental Skills that are vital for defenders;

  • Anticipation
  • Awareness
  • Reading Danger
  • Positioning
  • Marking
  • Composure
  • Bravery
  • Concentration

That list makes up some of the most vital parts of a defender, with the exception of the bottom two, they are easy to learn (but they can be learnt). Don’t be fooled into thinking you have to be good at tackling to be a good defender either, the best defenders rarely need to tackle.

Let’s look at the Technical Skills Needed for a defender;

  • Heading
  • Tackling
  • First Touch
  • Passing

Each of these skills involve the ball in some way, however both heading and tackling are also largely a mental skill, they require timing, knowing when to tackle, what position to be in to win the header etc. I’ve included them as technical skills because you will need to practice these with a ball in real situations. Learning the techniques will improve your understanding and your performance slightly, but you can’t really learn these without practise.

Finally here’s the Physical skills a defender needs;

  • Jumping
  • Pace
  • Strength
  • Acceleration

All can be improved, these require learning a little technique and the rest is hard work in the gym or in a field where you can work on increasing each of the attributes.

I will update this post with links to articles that run through each of these attributes as well as specific skills that may combine more than one of these attributes so check back here to see the related articles.

Some of these skills will be; (Notice the skills needed are mainly mental skills)

  • Matching vs Squaring – Skills Needed: (Positioning, Tackling)
  • Intercepting – Skills Needed: (Positioning, Anticipation)
  • Man Marking – Skills Needed: (Positioning, Awareness, Reading Danger, Anticipation)
  • Covering – Skills Needed: (Positioning, Awareness, reading Danger, Anticipation)

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