1v1 Soccer Ladder: The Heart of the Game


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Applicability: 1v1 defending and attacking is at the very heart of soccer. The more comfortable players are in these situations, the more they will be likely to do them on match day.

Area: Make a number of 7×10 yard (WxL) “tunnels” (can be smaller or bigger depending on how many players you have and their ability levels).

Activity: For each tunnel, one person starts as the attacker (can do rock-paper-scissors to see who goes first). The aim for the attacker is to dribble the ball past the defender and stop the ball on the far line. The defender becomes active when the attacker touches the ball forward.  If the defender tackles the forward, she becomes the attacker and tries to “score” at the opposite end. If the ball goes out of bounds, whomever the ball touches last, the other player restarts with the ball. Go for 60-90 seconds, review coaching points, and then have the loser move down the ladder, the winner move up. This is a good activity to see who the best dribblers/defenders are.

Offensive Guided Discovery Questions:

  • Is it easier to beat the defender when you go slow or fast? (See what they say and ask why)
  • Is it easier or harder to beat the defender when you change pace and direction?
  • What else can you do in this drill to be successful?

Defensive Guided Discovery Questions:

  • Do you want to pressure the attacker quickly or slowly? Why?
  • Do you want to defend high up the field, or near your own end zone? Why?
  • Why is it smart to show the attacker to her weak side? How can you do this? Show me
  • Is it a good idea to slow the attacker down? Why?
  • What is a good way to tackle the attacker without over-committing and getting beat? (Poke tackle)


  • Change where the defenders and attackers start from on their line (e.g. defenders on the left, forwards central, diagonally across, etc.).
  • Add gate goals (a couple of yards wide) in each corner (both ends) – have players dribble through/pass through to score.
  • Replace the corner gates with a central goal (4 yards) at each end.

Guided Discovery Questions after you have added Progressions:

  • How has the different starting position changed this game? Who does it favor? Why? What are the challenges with this new starting position? What are the opportunities?
  • Does having gate goals make it easier or harder to score in this game? Why?
  • Does having one central goal favor the attacker or the defender? Why?

Additional Notes: This activity should become a staple in your coaching repertoire because it offers the basic principles of attack: penetration, change of speed/direction, as well as the basic principles of defense: pressure, move feet, patience/delay, with emphasis on poke tackles. The more comfortable your players are in 1v1 situations, the better soccer players they will become.

2 thoughts on “1v1 Soccer Ladder: The Heart of the Game

  1. Paul Sturge

    James, excellent post. I have used a varient of this activity earlier this season but with the dreaded lines! I love this version. Will definitely be trying it out tomorrow. Just for those who are not necessarily familiar with all of the concepts and terminology, perhaps you could clarify what a ‘poke tackle’ is and how one should execute it successfully?

    • Hi Paul, thanks for the feedback. Excellent question that may merit its own post! Essentially a “poke tackle” is one where the defender uses her toe to poke the ball away from the attacker. This is an effective technique for 1v1 defending, especially when the defender is (or should be) sideways on and close to the attacker because it can be done quickly without losing balance (as in a big lunge – which leaves the defender committed and exposed). Think of the poke tackle as the soccer equivalent of the boxer’s jab! Defenders always want to stay on their feet, and they should always be ready to pounce on a bad touch/error from the attacker – a poke tackle allows her to do both!

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