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Shoulder Charge and Side Tackle

Ages: 6+; Equipment: Cones, balls; Players: 4+

Shoulder Charge

The shoulder charge is one of the most useful skills which a defender can have in his arsenal - and all young players should be able to learn this without difficulty. All that there is to a shoulder charge is to place your shoulder squarely against the shoulder of the opponent, and push against him. To start off, make sure that everyone's elbows are tucked in and pair kids by size/aggressiveness when to avoid injury. Simply allow the players to walk around without a ball, while pushing into one another with their shoulders. Show them that they can push very hard, even against the Coach, if they get their weight down and use their far leg to give additional power.

Next, have one player start to slowly jog, and have the other player close down on him until he is running side-by-side with the opponent. When coming onto another player to do a shoulder charge, it is VERY important to be sure to jog/run alongside for a few steps, so that your speed is matched with his. If you don't match speeds, it's easy to come in too hard and send the opponent flying which is a foul (and also not a good idea). Once you have made sure that your speed is matched, move over to make shoulder contact and start trying to push the other player away. To avoid sending the opponent flying, it is better to wait to start the contact until he is standing on his near foot (the foot closest to you), so that a push causes him to catch himself with his far foot. If started when he is on his far foot, it is much easier to knock him over and makes it more likely that the Ref will call a foul.

One of the main uses of shoulder charges is to legally push the opponent into touch. Be aware that shoulder charges are permitted only when the ball is in playing distance. For example, you cannot just push an opponent into touch just to slow him down so that he won't be able to run towards the goal to help his on-ball teammate. Shoulder charges can also be used in the middle of the field to steer an opponent towards one touch-line or simply tie him up so that it is harder for him to get off a pass. As players get older, they can learn how to spin off a shoulder charge in midfield, so it tends to become less useful over time when the opponent has space to spring away. Therefore, the primary focus should be on training the players for use of the shoulder charge when near a touch-line.

At first, have players work on shoulder charges without a ball, by simply running along a touch-line and trying to force each other across the line with a legal shoulder charge. Then, give one player a ball to dribble (it feels weird to try to dribble when somebody is pushing you from one side), and let them experiment. Be sure to have them switch roles periodically.

Next, have the dribbler start jogging down the line with a ball, and have the defender catch him; jog right beside him for several steps to be sure that speeds are matched; and then move in for a shoulder charge and try to steer him across the line. After several tries, switch places.

Once the players have learned to do a shoulder charge properly, they are ready to learn how to do a standing side tackle. There are two ways to do this.

One is with the outside of the foot that is nearest to the ball. This tackle works best if you can slightly ahead of the dribbler (so that your inside hip/leg will be free), then come in and nudge him slightly in front of his shoulder as you step in to knock the ball away with the outside of the foot. Time your run so that you push him just before he puts his weight on his outside (far) foot. This will force him to come down on his far foot too quickly as he tries to keep his balance which will make his dribble foot come down too wide and too far behind the ball for him to keep control.

The other is with the inside of the foot that is farthest away from the dribbler. As you come in for the shoulder charge, time your run so that you can step into the dribbler just as he has put his weight on his near foot. This will keep his leg out of the way as you swing your leg across your body to knock the ball out. Note that there is a slight difference in the timing of this tackle.

Have the partners try these tackles at a very slow jog, so that they will not get hurt if they get tangled up with one another. If done properly, the shoulder will push the dribbler over just enough to allow the ball to be knocked away, while both players can continue jogging. However, if not timed well, the tackler easily can trip the dribbler - so it is important to do this in slow motion. Essentially, the defender is timing his charge to take advantage of natural weight shifts which occur in running as the weight is transferred from one leg to the other, and helping to push the dribbler a bit off-balance so that he can get to the ball more easily. Because the dribbler is going to be somewhat off-balance naturally,it does not take much force to send him flying - so tacklers must be cautioned to be careful - and to go for a light bump only.

The final step is to try to actually win the ball instead of just knocking it out. This step probably is not advisable until players get to about U-10, because there is a good likelihood of some hard physical contact as the players fight for the ball. Until the players are mentally ready for such contact, this can be too intimidating. Moreover, until players learn to judge the size/strength of their opponents and gain some experience in lowering their centers of gravity, there is an unacceptable risk of injury. This is especially true if little David makes a mistake as he tries to take on Goliath and winds up in front of, or under, a steamroller instead.

Small Group Work

Divide into groups of 4. Put 3 players slowly jogging around a circle (one after another). Add a defender, who must use a shoulder charge or side tackle to get all of the balls out of the circle. Have various size players in the circle but stay alert to caution big players when charging small dribblers. All knocked-out players to get their balls and go back into the circle but turn it into a contest by counting how many dribblers the defender can get knocked out in 2 minutes.

Large Group Work

Play 4v4, with a forbidden zone in the middle of the field leaving about 20 feet of full field in front of each goal. The forbidden zone forces play to the wings which increases the opportunities for shoulder charges. Only the ball can go through the forbidden zone. Simply let the kids play for awhile to get used to the setup and praise any shoulder charges that you see.

Now, tell the kids that the area beyond the touch-lines is full of Moat Monsters and that anyone pushed into the Moat by a legal shoulder charge will be held by the Moat Monsters until the count of 10 while his team has to play short briefly. However, if the coach considers the shoulder charge to be too rough, the charging player will be held by the Moat Monster for 20 seconds.


Remove the forbidden zone, and play a regular game. Praise any successful shoulder charges, but allow the players to play normally. Because shoulder charges are fairly easy to learn, it is likely that you will see these in the game. Side tackles are harder, so players are more likely to reserve them for times when the ball is fairly far ahead of the dribbler (and often will simply decide to dart ahead to win the ball instead). Find a chance to talk briefly about decisions to either hold the ball or kick it ball out and when it is a good idea to consider this during the course of the game. For example, if you're in your defensive half, have no other defenders nearby for support, and are faced with other attackers around to gang up on you, put it out! Conversely, if you're near their goal with most of your players available and plenty of space to stop a counterattack, hold! Do not spend much time on this - just introduce the idea and get them thinking about it.

Updated 16 February 1999

Overview | Principles | Resources | Guidelines | Practices | Game Day | Very Young | More Reading