Center Back In Soccer 101: The Definitive Guide (Tips & Tricks)

Updated on 
February 7, 2022

I wrote this comprehensive guide with one goal in mind.

To help players to understand the center back position and give them tips to improve.

And let me be clear. This is not "just another" fluff post.

It's filled with tips that can literally change your soccer career.

This guide is a part of a series on soccer positions, so if you would like to expand your knowledge about other positions such as center midfielder, winger, or striker, check them out!

Let's dive right into it!

What is Center Back in soccer? Soccer position Explained!

While you definitely understand this already, I think it's still good to hear what's the official definition of this role.

Sow what is a center back in soccer?

Center back, also known as central back or CB, is a position in soccer that is being played nearest to the goal in the center of the pitch. The main role of center backs in soccer is to defend and manage the whole defense of the team. Most of the time, there are two center backs on the field at the same time.

Now that we have a formal encyclopedia definition off the shoulders, let's have a look at this heatmap I created:

As you can see from the image above, there are usually two center backs that are covering the center of the defense line.

What does it mean? Well, a good center back is a cornerstone of every successful defense.

Now let's take a look at the most common roles of the center back defenders.

Roles of center back in soccer

So there are offensive and defensive roles that every center back has to do.

Let's have a look first at the defensive ones

Defensive roles of center back:

1. Role: Reading the game

A player playing as Center back must have the ability to read the game. Why? Because he is the one who has to give the calls to other defensive players. He has to orchestrate his full-backs and midfielders in order to prevent counter-attacks.

He has to also predict long balls behind the defensive line. For that reason, reading the game is an essential role of the CB.

2. Role: Calling the shots

As I mentioned previously, the center back must call the shots. Why? Because he is a player that everyone can hear. He is closest to every player in defending such as goalkeeper, sweeper, fullbacks, and midfielders.

It would make no sense if the right full-back would be calling the shots. He would have to probably scream on top of his lungs, so the left-back could hear.

3. Role: Winning the balls

As every other defensive player, centre-backs must excel at winning the balls. Most of the time, they win the balls because of great physical preparation and the ability to read the game well.

Center backs are usually the last player in front of the goalkeeper, so it's essential that they are forcing players away from the goal with their movement and body positioning.

4. Role: Encouraging the team

Since he is the one who is calling the shots, it's very common that is also encouraging the whole team. When the enemy scores the goal, he should be the one to start the wave of optimism and motivation.

You can take a look at Sergio Ramos. He's a great example of how a leader should behave. Wen, you will be watching the next game, just notice how he is leading and encouraging his team. Especially when they are losing.

5. Role: Winning the heads

No matter at what center-back professional player you look at, there's a big chance that they're a great header.

The ability to win the heads is very crucial as they are able to collect many balls from opponents' goalkeeper kick-off. Heading also helps them to revert the danger of the corners and that way start a counter-attack.

Now that we learned about defensive roles, let's have a look at the offensive ones.

Offensive roles of center back:

1. Role: Helping to make counter-attack plays

There are a few ways how center backs can start counter-attacks. Usually, they happen after the corner of the enemy, or winning the ball and passing the ball fast into the space behind the enemy defense.

But to do that, he must first recognize the opportunity for counterplay, and that's not always easy to do. If you make a hasty decision, it might result in losing the ball very easily.

2. Role: Long passes behind enemy lines

This could be part of a counter-attack - but usually what happens is that when CB has a ball, wingers recognize free space behind the defense and start making the runes. Now CB can decide to send a long ball into that space if he recognizes a chance.

If not, that's completely fine, he can continue passing to other midfielders and defenders.

This is only one way to do this play. There are of course many variables and the situation will be always a little bit different.

3. Role: Making midfielders life easier

Being a midfielder is not an easy task - so having a center back that you can always pass the ball to is a great help.

Just be there for the midfielders.

When you're passing the ball to midfielders, don't forget to call out if they are free, if they can turn or if there's an enemy behind their back. It helps a lot!

4. Role: Heading

The heading is part of the defense and offense role. When your team has a corner or free-kick, and you know you are a great header, you should be there waiting for the opportunity to arise.

There are many defenders that are scoring goals with heads in almost every match.

Here are some other roles that center back should be able to do:

  1. Tackling the enemy attackers without any risk of free kick
  2. Intercepting long balls behind the defense line
  3. Incercepting balls to the enemy striker
  4. Forcing players away from the goal with body positioning and movement
  5. Making sure no teamplayer stays behind (for offside reasons)
  6. Organizing offside plays

Qualities that makes good center back in soccer

Similarly, as with the striker guide, I'll be describing the most common personality traits and qualities that make good center backs.

It's important to know, that you don't necessarily need to see yourself in all of them.

Qualities that make a good center back:

  • Leader
  • Optimistic
  • Great physial preperation
  • Fearless
  • High game IQ
  • Winning mentality
  • Goes extra-mile
  • Hard worker

These are the most common traits and qualities that center backs are known for.

Do you need them all? Probably not.

But when you look at a few of them such as optimism, leadership, winning mentality, hard work, going the extra mile and etc.. all these can be practiced in your daily life. Especially in team training.

There is no excuse to not do them - or at least try.

Of course, there are all kinds of different character types, and not everybody will have leadership skills. But most of the things can be practiced and trained.

Tips to improve as a center back in soccer

I prepared a few tips that you can apply today in order to become a better defensive player in center back position. While these tips might seem to be obvious, very few players actually do them in order to improve their game.

That's why I recommend you to take at least one of these tips, and apply it.

1. Study professional center backs

There are two ways on how you can study professional players:

Watching a soccer game on tv

But make no mistake here. There's a difference between passively watching the game for entertainment, and watching the game actively.

If you want to study center backs, try to analyze everything they do - that includes how are they positioning themselves, how are they defending, when they are tackling, where they look before receiving the ball from the goalkeeper and etc.

Watching analysis videos on Youtube

If you don't have time to watch the whole game, I highly recommend watching at least analysis videos.

You can find these by searching on Youtube: "center back analysis". Here's an example of what I found:

Amazing video. And there are many of them. What you can also do is to try to pick a specific player like Sergio Ramos and type in Youtube: "Sergio Ramos analysis".

Here are a few results that I received, with only one search.

2. Improve your focus & Get in the zone!

Focus is a very crucial state of your mind for your peak performance. Some basketball players actually call it "getting in the zone".

But what does "getting in zone" mean?

It means that you are so focused on the task in front of you, that you no longer perceive time and any other distractions become invisible. It's a very deep state in which you are fully focused on the task you have at hand.

How do you know that you are in the zone?

If you play soccer or do any other activity, you probably already experienced this state. You just didn't notice it. Usually, when you start to question if you are in the zone, you are probably not in it. You don't really consciously think in that moment. It's more like you're on autopilot and you let your instincts play.

That's when your performance is top-notch.

Now you're probably asking, how do I get in one?

Since you probably experienced it already, there's no need to overthink this. It's just a very deep state of focus. But there are a few exercises you can do, which when they're done consistently, you're able to improve with this mind skill.

This is a great video explaining everything about "getting in the zone" and what it actually is. Check it out!

3. Level up your communication & Leadership

As obvious as it sounds - communication is critical in soccer. Especially on a position like center back. This position is the foundation of the house. Depending on how strong this foundation is, your team will either struggle or thrive.

Now back to my point, you need to learn how to communicate effectively. That means not wasting any energy on stuff that doesn't matter, and instead redirecting all of that into optimism and leading.

Effective communication also means, that after a mistake of your teammate you will uplift him, instead of crushing his confidence. Blaming is useless and counterproductive.

Taking full responsibility for everything that happens in defense shows to others that you are a leader.

4. Work on your physical preperation

I think everybody will agree with me when I say that every player can only benefit from strength training. Especially nowadays, when demands are higher and higher.

Players are expected to be faster, smarter, and stronger than ever.

Being physically prepared will help you as a center back to win more balls and gain more confidence. There's nothing better than winning each contact with the opponent's striker.

In the end, soccer is a contact game.

5. Network with other center backs

This is the last nugget I have for center backs. While this one is not really related to your performance, it is related to your career.

Networking with other CBs in your league will help you to level up in your career for two reasons:

  1. You can learn from your opponents
  2. You can possibly get agent

Networking is a must if you want to make it and let me tell you, word of mouth is incredibly powerful. You never know, and one day someone might refer you.

I experienced the power of networking first hand. My agent once asked me if they're looking for a right-wing - that if I can recommend someone. So I referred my friend that was playing in a lower-tier league. He got scouted afterward.

Of course, all credits are going to him for his success. Word of mouth is just something that happens naturally.

Now that I gave you some tips & tricks on how to improve as a center back in soccer, let me answer a few most common questions!

How important is a center back in soccer?

I think there's no doubt that center back is essential. But how important is this position really?

Center back, or centre-back, is one of the most important positions in soccer. The reason why is because players in this position are a solid foundation of every successful defense. Another reason why they're so important is that they are the ones who organize and orchestrate the whole defense.

You see, there are many reasons why it's important:

  • They organise the defense.
  • Center backs are keystone of ever succesfull team.
  • Amazing heading skillset.
  • They predict dangerous plays.
  • Usually, center backs are the most responsible ones.

These are just a few reasons. I could go on and on about why this is such an important role.

What do scouts look for in a center back?

The main qualities and skills that scouts are looking for in center back are the ability to win the ball, read the game and intercept dangerous attacks. It's also refreshing to see a center back with a big level of confidence on the ball. Other than that, they also look for character traits such as leadership.

While every scout looks for something else, usually there's a certain pattern when it comes to center backs.

Nowadays I think what's really important to scouts is:

  • The ability to win the balls
  • Reading the game
  • Intercepting dangerous attacks
  • Being comfortable on the ball
  • Great physical strength

But when you think about it, almost all things could be also said about other defenders.

Wrapping it up

If you finished the reading of this comprehensive guide, I think you are on the right path of becoming a better center back.

While it's the journey and process that are the most fun - I bet you will love harvesting the fruit of the seeds you planted right now.

Being a center back is definitely not an easy position to play, but if you decided to play it and you love it, I think there's a very big chance that you will be an incredible player!

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Tom Lindeman
Ball Athlete project
Hey! My name is Tom and I created this blog in order to help people wherever they are in their sport journey. Inspirational posts, guides, reviews and much more! Read about the project here.
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