By Rick Crow
lowest levels of youth soccer nearly 70 percent of throw-ins are lost
to the other team. Bearing this percentage of failure in mind, young
teams might be better off kicking the ball out of bounds and stealing
the ensuing throw-in. To reverse these odds, every player on your team
must be prepared to execute a proper throw-in and get the ball into
play almost immediately. A sudden restart can catch the defense off
balance and greatly increases the odds of keeping possession. Since
there is no offside on a throw-in, a quick toss also offers a good chance
to get behind the defense and make a run on goal.
While teaching players to get the ball back into play quickly hardly seems like rocket science, simple things done correctly at the U-10 level and below are extremely effective. Marking off the ball is one of the weakest areas of youth soccer, and a quick-thinking player can take advantage of opponents not only during the run of play, but on restarts as well. Once every team member has perfected the throw-in, the player closest to the ball can heave it back into play before the defense has a chance to set up. Excessive delay, however, will allow the opponent to crowd numbers behind the ball and push the rate of failure back to around 70 percent.
Some coaches rely on one or two players to take all throw-ins. We'll call them designated throwers. The designated thrower is the most exhausted player on the field. In addition to her normal running duties, the designated thrower is required to sprint up and down the sideline, or even across the field, to shag balls and toss them back into play. Most adults would soon collapse under such a pace, but it is routinely required of U-10s with much shorter legs and smaller lungs.
All too often, when a ball is knocked out of bounds upfield, a quick-thinking forward prepares to toss it back in play, only to be halted by her coach. "Why can't I take the throw?" protests the confused forward. "Because you're not a midfielder," yells the coach. "Only the midfielders take throws."
By the time a weary designated thrower lumbers 40 yards to pick up the ball, the entire defense falls back and the numerical advantage for the attacking team is gone. The overworked midfielder then spends an eternity peering at a swarming defense and play stagnates while coaches and parents scream at her to throw the ball in 10 different directions.
Some coaches waste valuable practice time to work on basketball or American football style restarts. Inevitably, these carefully choreographed throw-ins usually exceed the 70 percent failure rate when put to test in a game situation. While a quick throw may lead to a great scoring chance or two, the impact of this tactic goes far beyond the won-loss column. In age groups where games may last only 50 or 60 minutes, too much time is wasted just putting the ball back in to play. For young players to develop, they must touch the ball as much as possible.
Coaches who emphasize quick throws also play an important role in teaching tactical awareness to their opponents. Teams defending against a designated thrower usually have at least 20 or 30 seconds to drop back behind the ball. Once a team is burned a few times by a quick throw, however, players begin to realize that casual defending against sudden restarts will not work.
Since skills, experience and endurance are limited at the lower age groups, young players should never be asked to do the impossible. Coaches who truly care about preparing young players for a higher level of play should take time to teach every beginner how to execute a proper throw-in. Once that is accomplished, throw the ball back on the field and let the kids play.
Rick Crow is editor of Maryland Soccer News.
© Women's Soccer World November/December 1997