Defensive Transitions – The Basics

Transitional moments are an understated, underrated and under-coached part of the modern game. How a team sets up after winning or losing the ball can make or break a team. As a result, today we dissect the basics of defensive transitions.

Defensive transitions can be defined as the moment of time between a loss of possession and setting up to win the ball back right away. In more complex terms, it involves the reshaping and restructuring of the team to set up and defend. Although the notion of tactical fouling is technically a tactical approach to a defensive transition, this article will explore how to win the ball back after losing it, and how to set up immediately to stop a goal from going in. This is Defensive Transitions – The Basics.

pressure, cover, compactness

The white team in the picture above has just lost the ball. They are now horribly out of shape. How do they recover? These are the necessary steps…

1. Pressure the Ball
-> Closest to the ball pressures. If they get beat with a dribble or pass, the next closest player pressures right away.

2. Cover Passing Options
-> Secondary players near the ball and with players around to mark, cover these potential passing options and/or avenues for the opposition to exploit space.

3. Eliminate Space (Compactness)
-> Close the middle. Far-sided players shift in and come closer to teammates and the ball.


1. Speed
-> Every player needs to activate speed to get back into position, or to fulfill one of the roles above (e.g. pressuring or covering). It doesn’t matter how tired the players are or how much they exerted themselves to get forward. Defensive transitions are a process that needs to be done as a unit. Again, this level of intensity starts with the closest to the ball, pressuring immediately. The others follow suit.

2. Scanning & Communication
-> When tracking back or restructuring to win the ball, all players need to be aware of their surroundings. This will help in the immediate decision of who should pressure, cover, provide balance, how to get compact, etc. Scanning the field will also help players to communicate what they see to others. While scanning, players might need to ask themselves the following questions…

  •  Am I closest to the ball?

Solution: Pressure the player on the ball immediately or communicate who should pressure.
(step 1 – pressure).

  • What are the potential passing options for the player on the ball?

Solution: Close down potential passing options or communicate who should cover instead. (step 2 – cover).

  •  Where is there space for the opposition to exploit?

Solution: Get narrow, eliminate space and/or communicate who else should do so.
(step 3 – compactness).

So there it is! The basics of Defensive Transitions for any team, with diagrams and examples for a team’s first introduction to the concept at the 7v7 stage. It doesn’t matter how old the players are, every coach should be looking to teach their players how to reshape and restructure in the quest to win the ball back immediately after losing it, furthering their development in the process. Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

Be sure to check out more in this series….
-> Playing Out From The Back – The Basics
-> Pressing From The Front – The Basics
-> Attacking Transitions – The Basics

You might also enjoy….
-> Support in Attack
-> Attacking Transitions (9v9)


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