Of all the soccer skills that help professional players operate at the highest level, shielding is certainly one of the less glamorous ones. Unlike an overhead kick, a rabona or a rainbow kick, it doesn't grab the headlines with a super visible display of inventiveness or individual brilliance. However, when compared with these kinds of standout skillful moments, shielding is without doubt of greater importance.
Shielding is a crucial skill that's used on a regular basis throughout any football match, whatever the level. You'll see it used by amateur players battling it out at the park on Sunday mornings, and you'll see it used by top Premier League stars like Kevin De Bruyne and Martin Odegaard. When it comes to ball control, it's absolutely crucial. That's why in this article, part of our extended series on soccer skills, we'll be exploring it in depth.
We'll explain what shielding involves and explore how the technique can be used to a player's advantage within a soccer match. After that, we'll look into applying these benefits practically by giving you a step-by-step guide to how to shield the ball in soccer. Sound good? Okay, let's get into it.
In soccer, the term shielding is used for a very specific skill designed to help players (and therefore their team) maintain possession of the ball, even when under intense pressure from opponents.
Soccer shielding involves using your whole body to protect the ball from opposition players. It requires arm movement, as players will often stretch their arm out to create a physical barrier, and it also involves turning your torso into the equivalent of a shield, a blocker that's strong and wide enough to prevent opponents from reaching the ball from behind or to the side of you.
A big part of this skill is about creating physical distance between the ball and your opponent, as a way of stopping them from winning the ball. It's not you that's being shielded in these positions - it's the ball itself. And when done successfully, it should be very difficult for you to be tackled by another player.
This technique is used all over the pitch, in a variety of different situations, but there's one key idea that links any utilisation of the soccer shielding skill...
Possession: that's the root of it. Soccer shielding is common for a reason — it has many benefits. However, the advantages of knowing how to shield a soccer ball effectively boil down to the simple matter of possession, which after all has a huge impact on so many areas of the beautiful game. Here are a few of the key benefits of ball shielding.
#1. Holding the ball up - this is a key skill that's particularly useful in advanced areas of the pitch. You'll often see big, technically skilled forwards with a great first touch (the likes of Olivier Giroud or Robert Lewandowski) dropping deep to receive the ball, shielding it and holding onto possession while their teammates catch up with them, before bringing those teammates into play.
#2. Defensive shepherding - this is when defensive players use their bodies to protect the ball from opponents and guide it out of play in order to win goal kicks or other set pieces. Shepherding the ball away relieves pressure and can also lead to set piece opportunities (eg. corners) in more advanced areas of the soccer field.
#3. Midfield possession - central midfielders are the heart and soul of any team, and one of their main jobs is to keep the ball and maintain possession, even when being pressed hard by opposition players. Maneuvering the body in order to shield the ball is a crucial ability within these types of position - technical defensive midfield players like Casemiro, Mateo Kovacic and Rodri are excellent at this.
#4. Game management - okay, we know that we probably shouldn't be glorifying time-wasting in soccer, but the fact is that ball shielding comes in super handy towards the end of matches when teams are looking to see out a positive result. Having a player shielding the ball by the opposition corner flag or in other more risk-free zones is a great way of managing the game under periods of pressure.
#5. Rolling the defender - one of the most exciting offensive uses of ball shielding involves allowing the defender to guide you away in one direction using their body, before suddenly changing direction to "roll" the defender and spin away in the other direction. Think about Manchester City's Erling Haaland - he does this all the time.
Those are some of the main uses of ball shielding, although ultimately, this technique can be employed in a wide range of other positions, too. But enough on that - let's move on to some practical steps to help you make ball shielding one of your standout talents.
Right, it's time for some guidance on bringing this skill into your game. You'll thank us later...
Here are five simple steps to enact next time you find yourself under pressure and needing to look after that soccer ball. You may find you do these things naturally already, but it can be useful to break it down anyway.
#1. After receiving the ball from a teammate (or picking it up off an opponent) when under pressure, try to move the ball to the foot that's furthest away from the oncoming defender.
#2. Now focus on getting your body between the ball and the defender. You want to create a solid, wide shield, so try taking a sideways stance (this adds more distance) and lean into your opponent with your arm outstretched to strengthen the barrier that you're creating. As you do this, make sure that you keep your balance.
#3. At this point, remember: don't swing your arm or push away a defender with force! By doing this, you put yourself at risk of giving away a foul (especially if you make contact with another player's face).
#4. Here, you might want to use the sole of your foot to keep control of the ball. This is particularly helpful if you're holding up the ball to win a foul or bring other teammates into play. You can pivot change direction, but you must be able to keep hold of possession at all times.
#5. Time for our final tip: think about the ultimate purpose of your shielding move, and execute it. Are you trying to draw a foul that will win your team a dangerous set piece? Are you attempting to roll the defender and spin away into space? Are you looking to give your teammate time to get up the pitch before playing the ball to them? Try to be one move ahead of your opponent, and when the time is right, execute your move to ensure that your shielding skill has paid off.
A number of soccer drills and games can be used to practice this skill and make shielding a key part of your arsenal. Games like Shield-Steal, Knockout or 2 vs 2 Keep Away are great for allowing players to practice these ball skills in fun, interactive ways. Even something as simple as a soccer rondo will have you using your body to keep possession and pass the ball on to others. Essentially, any activity that involves dribbling in tight spaces will be useful, and all players can benefit from this practice regardless of what position they normally play in.
If you're an aspiring coach, turning up to soccer training sessions with a collection of interesting routines and drills that help players perfect certain abilities is the way to make a serious impact. Coming up with innovative ways to practice shielding - whether that's in intricate possession-based routines or drills for perfecting hold-up play - is likely to lead to noticeable results. Shielding might not be glamorous, but the truth is, if your players can't do it, you're going to be in trouble.
Our blog is packed with useful information on pursuing a coaching career and taking your ability to educate others about the game to the next level. If you're interested in coaching or managing, take a look at our guide to how to become a football coach in the UK. Or, if you reckon your skill set lies outside the world of dressing rooms, pre-match pep talks, and decisive substitutions, why not take in some of our content on behind-the-scenes roles in football? Our guide to becoming a sports analyst could be the perfect place to start.
The skill of shielding will come into play all over the pitch. Learning to use your body intelligently is a crucial part of the game. However, it's arguably most needed in central midfield, where space is particularly tight, and getting your body between the ball and your opponent is even more important than in other areas.
As the sport continues to evolve, different positions and roles continue to develop; however, the core areas of defence, midfield, and attack remain the same. Within these zones, there are a number of different positions, from central defender to right or left winger. Check out our article on soccer positions explained for a definitive guide to each one.
In order to protect a defensive back line, managers will often employ players as a kind of defensive screen at the base of midfield. Think of Mateo Kovacic and N'golo Kante at Chelsea, for example. When two central defensive midfielders are used in this way to protect a backline, it will often be referred to as a double pivot.