Become a Better Fullback in 4 Steps:
Homie ! Hope you’re doing well and working hard to improve every single day.
Today is the start of a new series where I will be covering specific tips for each position on the pitch.
I get a ton of questions on how to become a better center back, holding midfielder, or striker…
And as you know : when you ask, I provide !
For this first week, we’re going to be focusing on full backs! Many of you get angry when I say “outside back,” so let’s call them fullbacks (just to make you happy).
Now, as you know, there are a lot of non-negotiables for players looking to make it to the pro level, no matter your position on the pitch.
These include (in no particular order) :
Tactical IQ, First touch, Passing, Dribbling, Shooting, Strength, Power, Fitness etc.
I don’t care if you’re a goalkeeper or a striker: if you can’t keep a ball under control at your feet and pass with the right weight and direction, you’re not making it to the pro level.
In this series of articles, I’m going to dive into the specifics for each position and not mention tips that apply to all positions.
With all that being said, let’s hop into the top tips to become the best full back you can.
I’ve personally played in this position at the pro level in Europe for several years (as well as in midfield).
I’ve also coached loads of fullbacks in my 1-on-1 programs so I’ve studied this position a lot and can say that I understand the keys to this position.
I’m speaking from experience here !
Ready? Let’s go!
1-Be good with both feet
2-You’re a defender FIRST
3-Make sure you’re fit and explosive
4-Become an attacking threat
1-Be Good with Both Feet:
« Ric, you just said you would avoid obvious comments! »
Hear me out G…
Listen, I know all players should work on improving both feet, but trust me, fullbacks especially become more valuable for a coach and a team when both their strong and weak feet are very good.
Versatility is Key:
Firstly, if you can play with both feet as a fullback, you can automatically play both left back and right back.
This means that, right off the bat, you’re giving your coach several options and bringing more depth to the squad.
Trust me, there’s nothing a coach loves more than having squad depth, especially at the higher level.
The starting eleven in the beginning of the season is never how it finishes at the end of the season!
Teams always think they have all positions covered going into a season, but a couple of injuries will happen, or some players will get suspensions…
This is when there are fewer and fewer options, and where versatile players become key in the squad.
So… If you want to become a key player in the squad and impress your coach, the goal should be to become more versatile.
As a fullback, this typically means being able to play both right back and left back.
Being excellent with both feet also makes you more unpredictable as a player, which is one of the top qualities you can have in today’s game.
Plus, from my experience, wingers usually get one piece of advice defensively: to show the opposing fullback inside.
Basically, wingers are usually told to use their body position to force you inside as a fullback.
What this does is that it forces you to cut inside on your weak foot and get into some heavy traffic in the middle of the pitch.
The goal here from the winger’s perspective is for you to make a mistake and lose the ball, since you’ll supposedly be less confident on your weaker foot.
With this being said, if your weak foot is as strong as your “dominant foot,” you can handle this situation well.
Personally, I love this situation because I can cut into my left foot and play the ball directly into the striker or the 10 where I can break multiple lines with one pass (I hope none of my opponents’ are reading this ;)).
Think about it: if you’re a right back, and your winger forces you inside…
Your goal should be to confidently take that space with aggression and pace and look to get your team forward as quickly as possible.
Obviously, your decision will have to do with how the opposition shifts in defense and the time of the game.
Every decision is dependent on the game situation.
If you can do this, your coach will instantly see you as an asset to the team because your comfort on the ball allows you to handle more situations effectively and helps the team get forward as quickly and as often as possible.
There are so many other situations where being comfortable with both feet will help you, so please make sure you improve your weak foot as early as possible in your career!
How to Improve Your Weak Foot:
My best tips for improving your weak foot are pretty simple:
- Put a conscious effort to train it and make it as good or better than your dominant foot.
- Do twice as many reps with your weak foot compared to your strong foot in your individual sessions.
- Challenge yourself and try playing with only your weak foot during a pick-up game.
- During partner sessions, play “weak foot only” games.
Before you know it, the gap between both feet is going to close significantly.
Also, during individual sessions and pick-up games, there is no pressure to perform, it’s mostly about having fun and getting extra touches.
Try it out and let me know how comfortable you feel using your weak foot after a few weeks! You can thank me later homie 😉
2- You’re a Defender First and Foremost
It’s so easy to forget this point with the modern game becoming very attack-oriented.
Sure, a 4-4 thrilling Premier League match between City and Liverpool is more entertaining than a 0-0.
But as a defender, you should prefer getting that clean sheet more than anything!
If your number one goal going into a game is to get an assist rather than not conceding a single goal, you’ve got your priorities mixed up!
Communicate With Your Winger :
I can’t tell you how important this is..
Having a good relationship on the pitch with your winger is key.
I’ve played so many games as a fullback at a high level, and trust me…
If you don’t have proper communication with your winger, your team will get exposed.
Sure, you want that offensive chemistry to be on point; but it’s more important to dial in your defensive shape.
The most important point is to avoid 2v1 situations at all costs.
The last thing you want is for a quick winger to drive the ball towards you with pace and you must worry about an overlapping fullback coming to help him.
This situation should never happen: your winger should always track back and take care of the fullback, so that you can focus on your 1v1 battle.
Or the other way around of course..
The point is, you need to be in charge of one player.
If your winger is too lazy to help you in these situations, your defensive line will eventually get caught out, exposed and penetrated.
So, my best tip to optimize these situations is to communicate before the game with the winger and your coach to have a clear plan when it comes to defensive situations.
Within the first 5 minutes, you should know the preferred foot of the opposition on your side.
Keep in mind, if you can keep more clean sheets, you’ll become a more valuable defender and an overall key player for your team.
That’s what we all want, don’t we?
Patience is Key:
This is key for you when defending as a fullback.
Patience means knowing when to stay on your toes and when to lunge in to try to get the ball from your opponent.
Patience is NOT waiting endlessly and backpedaling too much.
Because the more you backpedal, the closer you get to your own goal, meaning the more danger there is for your team.
My mindset when going into a 1v1 against the opposing winger is first to assess his options:
- Do I have cover behind me if I’m beaten in my duel?
- Is the overlap taken care of by my teammates?
If the opponent is in a fast break situation and you have no cover, for instance, the last thing you want to do is lunge in: that would be too risky.
If you misjudge the situation, you’ll either give away an easy foul (and yes, probably get a yellow) or you’ll allow the opposition to go straight to goal.
Not ideal, right?
What you want in this situation is to delay…
Stay on your toes with a low center of gravity a couple of yards away from the winger. This will allow your teammates to track back and bring support to you.
Now there is another 1v1 situation you could find yourself in: the winger is driving towards you but has few options, and your teammates are covering you well.
In this scenario, again, please don’t give away an easy foul. That’s probably the best the winger could get out of the situation.
You want to focus on showing the winger down the line with your body language and closing off the inside of the pitch, because this area is way more dangerous!
Ideally, pushing the player down the line puts them on their weaker foot too..
As soon as the opponent takes a heavier touch or messes up, lunge in (with aggression and your body) and make sure you get the ball (a little shoulder is okay too)!
Basically, your goal is to minimize the damage your winger can do when attacking you 1v1.
So, make sure you assess the situation well and make the best decision accordingly.
Mastering 1v1 defending as a fullback obviously comes with experience and playing several games, but make sure you keep these principles in mind!
Finally, think of Alexander-Arnold. Sure, he’s brilliant offensively but lately he’s been poor defensively…
Wingers are getting past him too easily because of lack of communication and awareness on his part.
This is proof that you can’t play at the elite level of football as a fullback if you’re good offensively but poor defensively !
You’re a defender first and foremost, never forget that !
3-Make Sure You’re Fit and Explosive
Talk about timing…
I just went over my full method to become match fit as a footballer last week in a full, detailed blog post.
Make sure you go check it out after you read this, especially if you’re in off-season: you’ll get a free fitness program that I’ve personally used to get myself in top condition as a fullback:
Fitness is Key:
You need to understand that, as a fullback, you’ll probably cover some of the most distance in a single match (especially during the modern game).
On average, pro fullbacks run anywhere from 8-12k during a 90-minute match.
This figure is increasing all the time, too… In the modern game, as a fullback, you’re expected to be effective in defending situations but also bring some danger going forward and help your team score more goals!
You need to make sure your body is ready to endure that level of stress to perform optimally.
Also, think about it: the fitter you are, the more consistent and effective your decisions and actions will be during a game.
If you can be helpful to your team at any time during the game, because you’re reliable from a cardiovascular fitness standpoint, that will again set you apart from the rest of the squad and make you a key player.
Do yourself a favor: work hard on your fitness in the off-season, so you can impress your coach straight into pre-season and give yourself a better chance to play more games during the season!
No excuses homie.
This is crucial as a fullback.
Sure, you can be smart when defending..
You can delay, you can get your winger to help you, you can do plenty of things…
But at the end of the day, you can’t avoid a 1v1 against a quick and fast winger. So…
You need that explosiveness to deal with them over the first couple of yards.
I’m not the fastest player personally, I haven’t been blessed with super fast-twitch muscle fibers..
With that being said, I’ve worked on my explosiveness over the years and improved it tremendously.
There’s no magic formula, but here’s a quick gist:
- Work on your base and how to control your body in space.
- Take care of your biomechanics and make sure you’re moving as smoothly and fluidly as possible. This will help you us your current and innate strength that you have.
- Then, begin to build! Work on your maximal strength to have a base on your plyometrics and explosive movements.
- Work on plyometrics to improve your tendon stiffness and resilience.
- Move weight fast in the gym with specific movements.
- Make sure your mobility is on point.
- Make sure you’re calm under pressure when you need to be.
Yes, explosiveness isn’t just about lifting tons of weight on squats. As a footballer, I believe it’s almost the opposite.
Technique and speed of movement matters most.
You want movement efficiency, that’s what matters!
And the most under looked way to unlock athletic potential and explosiveness is working on your hip & ankle mobility, of course, among other factors.
A stiff body can’t move fast, which is why our South American friends are so rapid!
Their dancing culture and ability to move their body is incredible, which really helps them on the pitch!
4-Become An Attacking Threat:
Like I mentioned, modern fullbacks are also attacking threats.
Think about Achraf Hakimi, Alphonso Davies or Joao Cancelo for instance.
These guys are bagging at least 10 assists a season because of the creativity and danger they bring in the last third!
So as a fullback, you want to make sure you’re bringing some danger offensively to help your team score more goals and hopefully win more games.
Repeat the Simple Stuff:
Body feints, fake shots and fake crosses are your best bets.
There’s absolutely no need to get too fancy and try triple stepovers, especially as a fullback.
Simple feints are more effective.
As a matter of fact, keep an eye on attacking plays during a top Champions League match.
You’ll notice most 1v1s are basically body feints and sudden changes of speed and direction.
As I always say, you want to replicate what the pros are doing to apply it to your own game.
So, if you want to work on the offensive side of the game as a fullback…
Go out to the pitch with a friend, have them spray a ball to you on the side of the pitch, drive toward a cone, do a simple move (body feint, fake cross), push the ball down the line and cross the ball in with pace in a dangerous area.
Repeat this consistently with a lot of reps and a lot of quality and add it as part of your individual training, and you’ll notice how much you improve in training and games.
By repeating these simple patterns consistently, you’ll develop muscle memory and eventually become a threat by adding in your own flair and creativity.
Simplicity is Genius!
Work on combinations with teammates:
In training, all coaches will work on tactical shape with specific circuits they want to see in games depending on the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses.
As a fullback, this is your time to really improve your crossing ability and develop that chemistry with your teammates (especially midfielders and strikers).
When you work on a certain combination in training, try to remind yourself of it before games and talk to your teammates about it.
If you can bring dangerous crosses and passes from those combinations, you’ll help your team get that W, and hopefully get assists or goals too : A Win-Win in my eyes!
To conclude, as a fullback, you want to make sure you’re defending well first and foremost.
Sure, the modern game is getting more and more offensive and exciting, but if you want to make it to the top level, you must focus on your defensive ability first and foremost.
Make sure you’re patient and explosive in 1v1s and communicate effectively with your teammates to make sure you keep that clean sheet!
Remember, you can’t lose a football match if you don’t concede a goal.
Let that sink in!
Having the mindset of not losing a game before winning it will make you more valuable for your team and coach, and help you reach the top level as a fullback!
Also, speaking of being more valuable, you need to see yourself as an asset: become a master with both feet so you can play both right back and left back.
This will offer more depth and options for your team and increase your chances of playing more games!
Also, please make sure you’re fit and explosive to deal with the common situations you’ll face as a fullback during football matches.
And finally, don’t overthink your attacking ability: simplicity, quality and repetition is key!
Work on simple combinations with teammates and practice your crossing individually to make sure you contribute to your team’s attacks effectively!
As an experienced fullback myself, I hope all these tips helped you my friend! Make sure you apply them in your training and games, and let me know how it goes !
As always, the Ric Fit Academy App is available for you to try for free!
You’ll get fully planned individual sessions, nutrition, and recovery tips, and much more.
Give it a go and have a great week!