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Soccer Passing – Lanes & Channels

Soccer coach going over play on writing board


I hear reporters talk about passes into lanes and channels. I can’t figure out exactly what that means. can you help?


It can be confusing, particularly since different reporters, AND SOCCER COACHES, mean different things when they say that, or they interchange the terms to mean the same thing. I personally think it is over-complicating some relatively simple concepts. Below are two diagrams attempting to explain what people really mean.

Passing Lane:


Passing lanes used to be called “gaps between defenders”. It is a space available for a ball to be passed through, typically on the ground. The “gap” must be wide enough so that no defender can extend the leg to cut off the pass. Or the passing distance must be short enough and the pass hard enough such that defenders don’t have time to react. The purpose is to play a ball into space behind the defense for another attacker to run unto. If it’s inside the penalty box it will set up a great scoring opportunity. Anywhere else in the field it will open up space and keep forward progression moving.

What reporters mean when they say that a passing lane was missed is that for an instance the gap was there and the second attacker was ready to run in behind the defenders, or actually ran into that space. The player with the ball didn’t recognize the opportunity and missed the pass into the lane.

In our practice books we have a few drills showing how to create “lanes” or “gaps” and then pass the ball through them.



A channel is most commonly referred to as the space between the most outside defender and the side line. It used to be called playing the ball down the side or the wing. From a passing technical perspective the difference between passing between two defenders or one defender and the side line is that the side line acts as a passive defender. It restricts the space available, but unlike a person, it cannot move to intercept the ball.

In a previous post, Switching PlayI discussed the importance of attacking down the sides/wings/flanks to generate crosses and scoring opportunities.

If the situation is as in the above diagram, and the space down the side is available, a pass should follow to set the runner free and generate the cross into the penalty box. A pass on the ground will be easier to control for the receiving player, but there must be enough space to play the ball through. A ball over the top wouldn’t necessarily be called a pass into the “channel.


It is easy to see how channel and lane can be used interchangeably. What matters is the concept of having space for a pass between defenders, or space for a pass between the most outside defender and the side line. Think of both as space or gaps when you listen to the reporters and you will recognize what they mean.

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Soccer Season Planning – Pre-Competitive Phase

Soccer coach going over play on writing board

Following the preparatory phase is the competitive phase, the heart of the season. It is divided into pre-competitive and main competitive components.

Soccer coach going over play on writing boardThe main objectives of the pre-competitive phase are:

  • Getting ready to play the first competitive game
  • Fine-tuning the system of play with all players knowing their positions, as well as their own and their team mates movements with and without the ball
  • Being ready to switch to alternate formations during a game or for the next game
  • Having each player and the team mentally ready to compete at top intensity
  • Developing speed

 The specific deliverables at the end of the general preparatory segment are:

  1. Starting line up and substitutes defined
  2. Game plans developed for the first 20% of the season
  3. Practice and training plans developed for the first 20% of the season, for team and for individuals (starters, subs, non-roster players)
  4. Injury rehabilitation being executed with specific return to action dates
  5. Opposition scouted and strengths/weaknesses identified
  6. Final schedules communicated

For the four pillars I suggest one main theme: EXECUTION SPEED.

Practices and drills focus on key specific skills required to execute the game philosophy and system of play. If possession soccer is it, then accurate passes at high pace to target players and into space are called for. Likewise ball receiving and control. If a fast break style is the philosophy, then longer passes, switching side of attack, accurate crosses might be the focus. Tactically repetition at high speed is called for. Use small grids for possession and larger grids for a counterattacking system. Find a way to incorporate full game scrimmages or more exhibition games. Fitness training is focused on speed. A good mental training strategy is to introduce players to visualization, discover their ideal performance state (IPS), and to develop pre-game routines for players to achieve their IPS at game time. For more information on the ideal performance state, check this article Ideal Performance State

The players need need lots of 1on1 discussions with the coach to make sure they buy into their roles.

Practice volume drops to medium and intensity steps up to high. Reduce practice frequency and aim for a high work/rest time ratio.

Continue to play exhibition games and keep scouting the opposition as permitted.

The length of this phase depends on the circumstance of the team. For university/college teams that only get together two to three weeks before the first competition this phase should be three days to one week. For competitive teams this phase could be two weeks. For recreational teams that get together a week before the first game this might have to be built into the pre-game warm-ups. Be flexible.

Coach Tom