Set up: Use a lined practice pitch or two rows of cones to divide the field vertically into three equal size rectangles. Play 3v3 (one player in each zone) or 4v4 (two players in the centre zone). Goalkeepers are optional.
The basic game: Each team must have at least one player in each of the three zones. They can receive, pass and dribble but can’t go out of their zone. They run, get open and mark defensively inside their zone. If they leave their zone (even if it is just by stepping over the line), they concede a free kick wherever the infringement took place.
After a few scores, swap the players to a new zone.
This taught my players to immediately get wide the minute that their team stole the ball and to space properly.
1. After playing 3v3 widen the centre lane and play 4v4 (2v2 in the centre lane) as in the illustration.
- When playing 4v4 allow two players of each team to be in any lane at one time. If a third player from that team wants to enter that same lane, one of the two players from his team must leave the lane before he can enter it. This requires lots of communication and ingenuity to get numbers up quickly on your opponents. It also teaches players to make “ball side” runs within their lanes to receive the ball.3. Set up three teams of 4 players and two teams play on the field and winning team stays on. Winning can be one, two or three goals. We play just one goal wins a game. When playing “winners stay on” we add these conditions for balls played out of bounds: Balls kicked over the end line outside of goal result in corner kick or goal kicks, BUT balls kicked across the touch-line mean an automatic loss for team that last touched the ball. The team sitting out must be ready to immediately defend their goal (or attack) when the ball goes out of touch.
- Do not assign players to a specific zone and allow movement between zones provided at least one player from each team is in each zone.
Offensively, this activity will encourage teams to switch balls quickly (looking for 1 v 1 situations or numbers up situations before the other team can switch quickly) and defensively this is working on constant communication. If, at any time, a team doesn’t have a player in each section, it’s a point for the other team.
Additional helpful ideas from Coach Orlay Johnson:
I love Ken’s lane games and have used them almost every practice in some shape, manner, or form. Yes, you can use four lanes, but three is a little easier to deal with and forces more team play (see below). One of the best adaptations of lanes is to help the defence understand the complexities and advantages of zonal play, or flat back four, or whatever you want to call it.
I am really into running practices where players are forced to make various decisions on how they will play. So i used something similar to Ken’s 1 and 2 options (above), but focus on defence and give them restrictions on how they play – one would be you must stay in your lanes, but one player can move lanes and be a stopper or sweeper, then after a few minutes tell them to switch to straight zonal defence. Then a combination. Another day you might tell them that the defence has to protect one of your defenders who is slow or hurt (tell her she can only walk, not run). Another is to switch from 2 defenders in centre lane, to 2 in left lane, and see how long it takes the offence to figure it out (longer than you’d think).