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Intermediate Passing – The Through Pass


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The through pass in soccer, also known as the soccer through ball, is a pass sent between two back defenders, or “through” a gap in the defense, into open space behind the defenders and out of the reach of the goalkeeper.   The pass is directed to a teammate who, after first being careful to be in an onside position at the moment the ball is passed, sprints to receive the ball in the open space.  Successful execution of the through pass requires recognition that the opportunity for the pass is available, that the passer and the receiver time the pass and the run properly, and that the pass has just the right pace (“weight” or “speed”) to be effectively intersected by the receiver.  The pass itself can be made in the air or on the ground, but it is easier to introduce the pass to young players by keeping the ball on the ground.  Similarly, the pass can be made with the inside-of-the-foot, the outside-of-the-foot or the instep, or with a straight or a bending ball.   The selection depends on the amount of power needed and the ability to get the ball past the defenders without it being intercepted.  For young players it is recommended to start with an inside-of-the foot pass and then move to an instep pass.

The through ball is an extremely significant weapon on attack with the opportunity usually presenting itself due to a quick turnover.  When the pass is executed properly, the receiver is often immediately placed in the position of going one-on-one with the goalkeeper for a shot, with sending a square pass to another on-rushing teammate, or with dribbling toward the end-line and then crossing the ball.  The first key to the pass is that the ball handler and the prospective receiver recognize the potential for the pass.  It must be executed quickly.  The second key is having sufficient space for the receiver to run into.  Often the pass is initiated in the team’s defensive side of midfield.  The third key is that the pass properly splits the defenders.  The backs must be far-enough apart, and the pass hit hard enough, so that the defenders cannot cover the distance needed to block the ball.  The fourth key is ensuring that the pass properly leads the receiver.  The receiver should not have to slow down or alter the path of his run to get to the ball.  The fifth key is that the receiver must be on-side at the time of the pass.  This requires timing such that the receiver starts his run in front of his defender and has not gone past the last defender at the moment the ball is passed.

The recommended progression for introducing the through pass is:


Pairs with Ball, Cones as “Defenders”

Pairs with Ball, Stationary Defenders

Pairs with Ball, Stationary Defenders, Live Goalkeeper

Pairs with Ball, Life Defenders, Live Goalkeeper

Game Situation:  Trio with Ball, Live Defenders, Live Goalkeeper


The coach should announce that he is going to introduce the “through pass” and show the expected end result.  Just past midfield, the coach should set two stationary defenders perpendicular to the sidelines approximately 30-yards apart, with cones at their feet, and a goalkeeper in goal.  It is also useful to place a disc on the field at the expected intersection of the receiver and the pass.  From a position in the defensive half of the field, the coach should demonstrate the through pass by starting the receiver running from a position approximately 10-yards in front of the defenders, also marked by a disc near the sideline, and then sending the ball between the defenders to the area of the receiving disc so that the ball can be received by the runner.  The pass must be made before the receiver is even with the defenders in order to ensure that the receiver does not go offside.

Pairs with Ball, Cones as “Defenders”

From the demonstration set-up, replace the goalkeeper with a cone, pull the two defenders and establish pairs with a ball.  Depending on the number of players involved, the whole set-up can be established toward the right side of the field and an entire duplicate set-up can be established going toward the opposite goal.  Players are to run-and-pass, with the passer following his pass and the receiver taking a shot after getting the ball.  Players return, switch positions, and repeat.

Pairs with Ball, Stationary Defenders

After coaches are comfortable that the concept of the through ball and the timing of the pass have been achieved, they may place stationary defenders at the “defender cone” positions and run the drill as above.

Pairs with Ball, Stationary Defenders, Live Goalkeeper

After coaches are comfortable that players are properly splitting the stationary defenders with the pass, the “goalkeeper cone” may be replaced with a live goalkeeper and the drill run again.  Caution may need to be expressed about not having any contact with the goalkeeper.  Rotate the defenders out.

Pairs with Ball, Life Defenders, Live Goalkeeper

First as a demonstration, coaches may now have their defenders go live.  One defender should immediately take the runner and the other defender should come over to cover the passer.  This should have the effect of shutting down the pass.  As such, this is an opportunity to teach that the pass must be made quickly, as soon as the passer recognizes the situation and before the defenders can react.  The coach may run the drill again with the defenders restricted to only “half-speed.”

Game Situation:  Trio with Ball, Live Defenders, Live Goalkeeper

Coaches may then divide the attacking players into groups of three, placing the newest attacker to the left of the passer in order to keep the defender “honest.”  At this point, the defenders can go “full live.”  If the through ball is shut down, the passer may pass the ball to the open player or use a chip pass to get the ball over the defender to the runner.

Soccer Coaching Tips

Remind runners to time their runs properly to not to get caught offside.

Note that there are two types of through balls involving straight or diagonal passes.

Through passes are sometimes referred to as “leading” passes or “deep penetrating” passes.

Accuracy is important, together with the pace of the ball and the timing of the pass.

Ground conditions will determine how hard the pass must be struck.

A different pass must be used if the through ball is not there, either a chip or to someone else.

The player in possession the ball should be under little or no pressure when making the through pass.

Players need to keep their vision up and their tactical awareness keen to see the opportunity for the through pass when it presents itself.

Opportunities for the through ball often occur after regaining possession from an opposing corner kick or from an opposing free kick in the defensive third of the field.

Through passes can be made straight in the center of the field with a diagonal run from either side, diagonally from the center to a straight run on either side, straight down the side with a straight run down the side, or diagonally from the side to a diagonal run to the middle.

Any undefined soccer words, terms, or phrases may be found in The ULTIMATE SOCCER DICTIONARY of American Terms available at Amazon.com.

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John Harves


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