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Commentary May 11, 2021

The Tragedy of the Throw-In

By Tim Bradbury
Director of Coaching, Eastern New York Youth Soccer

I never thought I would write about throw-ins. With so many interesting and challenging topics within youth soccer to discuss, I just never thought throw-ins would make it into my monthly coaching article. Yet here I am. I must confess that I have sleepless nights about this most common restart in soccer. I know this may seem crazy so let me explain.

I have watched thousands of games of all ages. During these matches, I have seen coaches of a variety of backgrounds all at different stages of their coaching development projectory and for the most part, all would proudly claim, “I’m in for the kids and put skill development before winning.”

Yet as soon as the ball goes out, the command is simple no matter what the scenario on the field, “throw it down the line.” A quick glance down the field confirms the insanity of the order, one attacker surrounded by five defenders with zero chance of retaining the ball or forming an attack. I have started to think there is some secret society determined to one day change the Laws of the Game where throw-ins that gain ground, even if the other team gets the ball, become worthy of goals.

Let us set the record straight as this will never happen. A throw-in should be a means for a team to keep the ball, hopefully with good attacking shape built into the moment and to start to form an attack. It should also be a player-centered moment where the player taking the throw should be allowed to make an intelligent decision without a coach or some overzealous parents all shouting about what he or she should do. Yet I see hundreds of intelligent kids with a good understanding of the game ordered to throw the ball to the other team.

Perhaps it is the skill sets involved in the ball retention piece, the quality and technique of the throw-in or the advanced skill of dealing with a flighted pass. (Yes, a throw-in is a pass with the hands.) The ability to receive the ball in the air, clean it quickly and get it on the ground in a position you can use or pass to a teammate in space. Perhaps these are things that coaches struggle to teach.

The basic tactical piece, I must be honest, seems more like common sense is that a throw-in should be a means to keep the ball. Most kids can tell you (a) which of their teammates is close enough to throw it to and (b) which one of them is in the biggest space. Please allow them to figure these two things out and make a decision.

Impossible to write about the throw-in conundrum without discussing development. There is a time when throw-ins are not helpful and hurt the quality of the game being played. Unless they are at an age and position in terms of their skill mastery where they can deal with a flighted ball (good throw-in) or bouncing balls (not so good throw-in), a throw-in just leads to a mess.

As a suggestion based upon the following progression of skill mastery that I suggest:

Dribbling, moves, passing, pass to yourself first touch, striking the ball, dealing with balls in the air… I believe that the decision on when to introduce throw-ins is one that needs to be carefully considered. Until players can deal with a flighted or bouncing ball, perhaps a pass in or dribble in is more helpful. Food for thought?