Center Back Soccer Position

The Center Back

Center-backs are sometimes referred as center-halfs or central defenders and they play an important role in the defensive line of any team.

Players in this soccer positions are tasked with the role of defending the goal by preventing rival players from scoring goals.

Center-halfs are often considered the backbone of a squad because they thwart attacks, both in the air and on the ground; and in many cases this position is held by the team captain.

Due to the heavy responsibility placed on the modern day center-backs, many coaches pair a sturdy, towering center-back with another quicker center back to create a balance of authority and athleticism. 

What Skills do Center Backs Need?

The center-half position is multi-faceted which means players in this role are expected to be versatile, intelligent, have organizational skills and generally be good team players.

So what are some of the key ingredients for an ideal central defender?

Good Positioning

One of the most important characteristics of any good center-back is a good sense of positioning and awareness while on the pitch.

When you’re playing in this position you should be able to predict an opponent’s next move and use your intelligence to position yourself in such a way that you can intercept strikers and distribute the ball well. 

Backline Communication

A team is nothing without proper coordination between players.

If you play as a center-back you should have good cooperation with your counterparts at the back since it helps create good chemistry.

For instance, when you are defending a challenge from the opposing team, you need to dictate where each player should be positioned and who to mark.

Executing an offside trap also requires good coordination which can only be achieved through good communication

On-the-ball Skills  

The rigors of the modern game has made the center-back position more dynamic.

No longer is it just about hard tackles and thundering clearances.

Now center-halfs need to have additional skills such as good ball possession and retention, improved ball handling and decent dribbling.

If you play in this position you should be comfortable holding on to the ball which helps draw in the opposing players thus exploiting any gaps they leave behind.

Strong Upper Body Strength

Having a sturdy upper body is an asset to a central defender because it enables you to fight for the ball effectively and potentially out-muscle your opponents.

Standing your ground is an important aspect of this position because as a defender you should not be easily pushed around especially when the opposing strikers are lurking.

In short, a good physique is an added advantage.

Good in the air

As a center-back your aerial ability should be top notch.

The goal area often has long crosses sent in and it is up to you to and the rest of the backline to be able to jump and head away threatening balls.

This goes a long way in protecting the goal and easing pressure on the goalkeeper. 

Drills for Center Back

For you to get better as a center-back you need to put in the time and effort during team practice and even find time to practice on your own.

Here are a couple of training tips that will help sharpen your skills:


Learning to juggle is not just about the cool tricks you can show off to others, it is actually a great way of perfecting ball handling skills.

So how does this help you as a center-back?

Well, like I mentioned earlier, the role of central defenders is more demanding and your ability to control the ball well is more of a requirement than an option.

Juggling is a simple skill that you can even practice in your backyard alone. But if possible try and find one or more partners to train with.

When juggling try and find different ways to manipulate the ball.

For instance, add some side spin, back spin and topspin when juggling which will enable you to get used to different ball situations when playing in a game. 


Once you are done with juggling drills you can try and practice how to trap the ball from the air.

This is basically how it is done:

Kick the ball as high as possible and as the ball comes down use the top of your soccer boot to settle it without it bouncing away.

This drill will help you learn how to control high balls which will come in handy especially in high pressure situations.


Soccer is essentially a passing game which means as a center-back you need to be able to send accurate passes to your team mates.

Here’s a simple drill that you can practice even at home.

  • Place a cone or any other marker about 10 yards from you.
  • From your original position try and kick the ball directly to the cone without missing.
  • Try this from different angles also from both static and moving positions.
  • Once you are making accurate passes at close range try increasing the distance between you and the cone.


If you have a partner you practice heading the ball to each other or crossing the ball from different angles to simulate an actual header clearance.

If you are alone you could use a wall as a rebounder and practice heading from different angles.  

The Importance of the Center Back in a Soccer Team

Zones Center Backs Occupy

The defense is the cornerstone of any soccer team and at the heart of this backline is the center-back.

Here are several key tasks that you should be able to execute well when playing in this position.

  • Leadership and communication – To make it as a center-back you need to be able to coordinate effectively with your fellow players and offer stewardship while on the field. This is the main reason why coaches normally appoint the role of captain to the center-back. Organizational skills are vital. 
  • Defensive general – the ability to lead the defense and handle any threats head-on is a key component of this position.
  • Distribution – as the role of the central defenders evolves, many coaches require center-backs to  be one of the key ball distributors in the team. This means that if you’re playing in this position you should be to spot fellow team mates in good positions and feed the ball them. This is extremely vital especially during counter attacks.
  • Physicality – every team requires a tough backline that is ready to scrap it out with opponents. The center-back is part of the defensive formation that should consistently make it hard for the opposing team to penetrate the goal area.       

Famous Center Backs Past and Present

Many players of great repute, both past and present, have occupied this position and some of the past favorites include the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Paolo Maldini, Carlos Puyol and Fabio Cannavaro among many others.

Currently there are plenty of great players in this position and they include Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Jan Vertonghen, Mats Hummels, Leonardo Bonucci and of course the towering Virgil van Dijk

As an Arsenal fan I still don’t think you can beat the combination of Tony Adams and Steve Bould who solidly held the defense together for years… but I’m a bit biased!

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