Training The Flat Back Four


Steve Simmons is currently the Head Men’s Coach at Oregon State University.  Steve has extensive experience at the collegiate level having formerly been employed as head coach at Linfield College and Northern Illinois University as well as associate head coach at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. At the youth level, he has been a member of the Region IV ODP Staff for several years. Steve currently holds a USSF ‘A’ License.

Exercise #1:

Warm up:

The players are arranged as shown in Diagram (a). The yellow players pass the ball back and forth forcing the red players (defenders) to adjust their positions as the ball travels.

Diagram A
Diagram A

Coaching Points:

  • Defenders must adjust as the ball travels.
  • Fullbacks must decide when to show the attacker inside or outside.
  • Angles and distance of support.
  • Communication is vital.
  • Head on a swivel – defenders must be aware of what’s around them at all times.

Exercise #2:

2 v 2 + Goalkeeper:

The playing area is arranged as shown in Diagram (b). A supply of balls is positioned with the coach at the edge of the area. The two attackers (yellow) receive a pass from the coach and try to create a goal-scoring opportunity. The two defenders (red) must attempt to stop the attack. Points are awarded to the attackers for a goal or for a shot on target. The defenders are awarded points for: (i) clearing the ball from the playing area, (ii) blocking a shot, (iii) winning possession of the ball, (iv) forcing a shot off target. In Diagram (b) defender (A) can be seen putting pressure on the ball while defender (B) offers good defensive support.

Diagram B
Diagram B

Coaching Points:

  • The defender nearest to the ball must quickly close down the opponent.
  • The defender nearest the ball must force the attacker into his defensive support or
  • away from the goal depending on the area of the field.
  • Covering defender must offer proper angles and distance of support.
  • Constant communication between defenders and goalkeeper is vital.
  • The goalkeeper is an important component in the defensive unit.
  • No ball watching.

Exercise #3:

4 v 6 with Goalkeeper:

The field is organized as shown in Diagram (c). The goalkeeper begins play with a thrown service to the attacking team (yellow). The six yellow attackers must attempt to create a goal scoring opportunity against the back-four (red). The offside law is in effect. The defensive team must attempt to win possession and play the ball through the flags as quickly as possible.

Diagram C
Diagram C

Coaching Points:

  • The back-four must try to keep everything in front.
  • Hold the line – don’t continue to drop into the 18 yard box.
  • Make the attack predictable through proper positioning.
  • Do not play an offside trap but DO use offside to your advantage.
  • The defensive unit must shift, slide and adjust as the ball travels.
  • Deny penetration through any seams.
  • Don’t allow any penetration through the middle – push the attacks wide if possible.
  • The goalkeeper must be a part of the cohesive defensive unit – communicate, positioning, reading through balls etc.

Exercise #4:

4 v 4 + 4 Transitional Defending:

Three groups of players are organized as shown in Diagram (d). An additional group, of 4 players is positioned off the field – these players will rotate in after 5–8 minutes of play. The red and yellow teams are “back-fours”, the white team are midfield players. The activity begins with a pass from the goalkeeper. The red back-four plus the midfielders attack the yellow back-four creating an 8 v 4 situation. The yellow defenders attempt to stop the attack from the 8 opposing players. After a shot or a change of possession the game switches and continues in the opposite direction with the yellow back-four and the midfielders attacking the red back-four. The game is continuous for a designated period of time.

Diagram D
Diagram D


1. Add 2 central midfielders for the defensive back-four to create an 8 v 6 situation in favor of the attacking team.
2. Add 2 center forwards to the attacking group to create a 10 v 6 situation.

Coaching Points:

  • The defensive team must get organized quickly during transition.
  • The goalkeeper must assist the back-four with solid communication.
  • The back-four must adjust their line as the ball travels – push up, slide left, slide right, drop etc.
  • Don’t allow penetration in any central areas.
  • Stay compact to have success in a numbers-down situation.
  • Offer good angles and distance of defensive cover.