Marcelo Balboa Gives Tips on Slide Tackling
US Youth Soccer Website

Marcelo Balboa, a US Youth Soccer Alumnus played six years with Colorado leading them to the 1997 MLS Cup.  He has these tips on slide tackling.

Marcelo Balboa knows a little something about defending after seven seasons in Major League Soccer and nearly 130 appearances with the U.S. national team spanning a decade. He offers his tips so players can defend aggressively but intelligently.

1. Watch The Ball
When an attacker is running at you with the ball, it's difficult not to concentrate on his body movements. Doing so, however, could cost you a tackle.

More than a few flashy forwards have juked a defender out of his socks while only nominally touching the ball. Such situations, however, can be avoided by keeping your eyes on the ball. "If someone is trying to dribble by you and he's coming right at you, you've got to watch the ball," says Balboa. "No matter where the attacker's body moves -- he can go right, he can go left -- the ball always sits still."

2. Don't Tackle Unless It's Necessary
The best place for a defender to be is on his feet, not on the ground, and so one should resist the temptation to leap at an opponent's ankles any time the opportunity presents itself. It's better to contain the forward and prevent him from penetrating. You should also try to work with your fellow defenders to close off the attack without direct confrontation.

If you are the last line of defense -- as Balboa usually is -- it is particularly important to remain upright. If your slide-tackle fails, your opponent's path to the goal will be clear.

"Any time you dive in, there's a chance of you getting beat," Balboa says. "Even if you do dive in and get the ball, it can always bounce or deflect off the guy and get by you."

3. Wait For Your Opponent To Separate From The Ball
As long as your opponent has the ball at his feet, he's in control and a slide-tackle could be suicidal. Wait for him to knock it ahead two or three feet -- if you are fairly close by -- before diving at his feet.

"If you tackle when it's at his feet," Balboa says, "he can knock it away from you or dribble by you.

When he separates from the ball, then you cut in front of him without tackling. And that's perfect because you can keep playing. If you need to tackle, wait for him to separate from the ball, then hook him."

Timing is the crucial ingredient, both for safety and effectiveness. But the quality of the timing is elusive.

"The most important thing is to get your timing down," says Balboa. "If you don't have the right timing, your opponent is going to run right by you, and you might end up with a card."

Developing timing requires constant practice, but because training sessions rarely emphasize tackling, games offer the best training ground.

"Kids always want to practice slide-tackling, but it is not really something you can do in practice," Balboa says. "The more you play, the better you'll get at it."

4. Be Decisive
Every time Balboa tries to complete a tackle, he takes the attitude that he is "going to get the ball and crush the forward. That's the way you have to think," he says.

Mentality is important, especially at the highest level where the difference between success and failure can be confidence. Players can't hesitate, or they'll be beaten.

"When you decide to go down, you have to go down," he says. "You can't think twice about it. If you go into a tackle halfway, you can get hurt. Decide 100 percent that you are going, then go."

Knowing when to go requires instinct built through experience, and it requires the ability to read the game.

5. Attack From An Angle
It is possible to slide-tackle an opponent from behind or from the front. But the risks -- fouls, cards, expulsion -- are great. The best tackles come from an angle. Coming in at a angle also allows the defender to strip an opponent from the ball without tackling.

While racing alongside an opponent, wait for him to separate from the ball. Then step into his path, between him and the ball.

"Step right into his line," says Balboa. "Now you've got the ball, and you can shield it. Chances are, he'll trip you or foul you because you've cut him off."

Tackling from behind, an inexact science which soccer officials are intent on banning, isn't recommended.

"For every clean tackle from behind, there are four bad ones," Balboa says. "You always seem to clip the guy, catch an ankle or something. You might get away with one clean tackle, but many times you are going to foul the guy, and you might seriously hurt him. That's why they are trying to stop it."

"If I'm tackling from behind, I'm screwed because I'm the sweeper. I try not to get myself in that situation."

Slide-tackling from the front, with both feet, is another matter, and one referees rarely smile upon.

"Straight-on, you're going to get the ball first, but obviously you're trying to hurt the guy if you're going in with both feet straight on. That's why referees don't like straight-on tackling. Even if you get the ball, they usually call a foul."

6. Protect Yourself
The first law of slide-tackling concerns safety, and it begins with shinguards. Full guards may not be as comfortable as smaller models, but defenders don't really have a choice.

Nor do they have a choice once the decision to tackle has been made. Don't take it easy! You must go all out.

"I've done that before," says Balboa. "I went into a tackle very easy and did my MCL, strained it."

Mechanics are important. Balboa recommends that tacklers keep their leg unlocked with a slight bend. Then when you get to the ball, extend your leg through it.

"Make sure you get the ball right on your shoelaces," he says. "And swing your leg through it."

7. Give 'Em The Hook
The proper slide should make baseball managers proud -- it's a hook, on your side, with the extension of your leg through the ball.

"It's like a baseball slide," says Balboa, who spent some time on the basepaths during his youth. "The only difference is you don't slide straight through. In soccer, you're running at an angle and sliding, hoping to land on your side. Then you try to swing your leg across and hook the ball."

It requires precision and resolution.

"Don't just put your foot out there, hoping the ball will hit you as your opponent trips over you," Balboa says. "Make sure you swing through it. Try to clear it, or try to kick it away from him."

8. Get The Ball
This is most important. If you don't get the ball, you're goalkeeper will likely be picking the ball out of the back of the net in a matter of moments.

"Make sure you get the ball," Balboa implores. "You can get the ball first and then go through the player."

Or don't. Tackling doesn't require a defender to strip the ball from his opponent. Sometimes just getting in the way is enough.

"If a guy is running down the wing, he's running full speed, and you know at that speed he can't cut it back. You know he is going to cross it," Balboa explains. "Sometimes if you stick out your leg, you're not going to block it. If you slide and lift your leg, you can block the pass."

9. Control Your Emotions
Professional fouls are part of the game, mere moves in a chess match. And although players can become frustrated and tempers can flare, one should never take it out on an opponent.

"It's important that you control your emotions," Balboa says. "Never go out to hurt somebody because you're looking to be thrown out of the game, and that's stupid. Make sure you keep your foot down when sliding -- you don't ever want to lift your foot. Tackling around the knee or tackling high... to me, that's just stupid. Soccer is a fun game. There's no need to get violent."