Shielding the soccer ball to prevent an opposing player taking it from you is a critical skill. First let’s be clear about the rules. Shielding the ball when you have possession or are trying to gain possession is legal. Stepping in front of an opponent and passively preventing them from getting to the ball is a foul, it is obstruction.
There are different occasions in a game in which shielding is critical.
During Ball Receiving
As I mentioned in a previous article, soccer players must decide what to do with the ball BEFORE they actually receive it. One of the decisions is to shield the ball if you anticipate or observe an opponent challenging you for the ball. Imagine a high cross-field pass to you, not ahead of you. You now have to wait for the ball which gives opponents time to close space to you and challenge you for possession. You need to be aware from which angle the pressure is coming and you must anticipate the exact location of where the ball will end up. If you occupy that space first then shielding is not a foul. Once there, position your body between the oncoming opponent and the ball. Ideally you want to keep the opposing player behind you. The basic principle of shielding is to make yourself as “big” as possible by spreading your arms. This forms a fence like barrier which an opponent can only breach by a tackle or push from behind, which would be a foul.
Ball at Feet
You have the ball at your feet and nowhere to dribble to, and no option to pass. All you want is to hold the ball and wait for support to arrive to give you a passing option. An opponent has closed you down and is “nipping” at your feet. To shield the ball, turn your back towards the opponent and spread your elbows/arms. Stick your rear out a bit. This gets the maximum distance between the ball and the opponent.
Competing for Ball
The classic example you see on TV every day are two players chasing the ball towards the goal line. If the defender is closer to the ball and a goal kick would result from the ball crossing the goal line, then the defender shields. Depending on the speed of the ball this can be quite a fierce battle. The defender slows down, and the attacker is trying to get around the defender by slide tackling or other means to keep the the ball in play. Just a touch on the ball bouncing it off the defender’s foot can yield a corner. If the attacker is closer and the result of the ball going over the line is a corner, the roles reverse. The attacker is shielding and the defender tries to gain a goal kick.
It is important to shield within the rules. Be first/closest to the ball. Spread your arms and hold. Stick out your rear end if you can. Do not move your arms to touch/push the opponent as they are trying to get the ball from you. Shielding is somewhat of a passive-aggressive move.