The throw-in is an important part of a soccer game. It’s how the ball is put back into play after it goes out along the touch line (sideline). Learning some effective strategies for soccer throw-ins can be a big advantage in youth soccer games.
Let’s dive into proper technique and useful strategies for this common soccer element.
Proper Throw-In Technique
There are only a few basic rules that define a proper throw-in in soccer.
First, the player must hold the ball with both hands straight above or behind the head. When thrown, it must be thrown straight forward with both hands.
The second rules is that both feet must remain touching the ground while making the throw. This may include stepping into the throw and ending by dragging a toe. As long as both feet remain touching the ground for the actual throw, it will be a proper throw-in.
If the player violates either of these rules, it is an improper throw-in. Improper throw-ins result in a turnover to the other team.
In professional soccer, the throw-in isn’t quite as strategic as it is in youth soccer. The pros are so good that they prefer to get and hold ball control on the field. But in youth soccer, good throw-in strategy can be a game changer for ball control.
Since kids don’t have the best ability to keep the ball, I find it’s best not to throw the ball back toward your own goal. It presents a better opportunity for the other team to win the ball and easily score.
Instead, you’ll want to teach them to throw the ball in in the direction of your attack. This will allow you to use it to start your offense.
But you don’t want to randomly throw the ball on to the field. You want to find a way to get the ball to your teammates. There are some simple strategies you can teach to give your throw-ins offensive impact.
Two Target Strategy
The simple target strategy is great for 8U and 10U age divisions. It’s easy for kids to remember and helps you get the get the offense moving.
Tell the kids the plan for each throw-in is to have two targets for the thrower. You can refer to them as a close target and a far target. These targets should be lined up on a path from the thrower to the goal.
The thrower then has two options to choose from. First, they can make a short throw to the feet of the close target allowing their teammate to get control of the ball. Second, they can throw deep letting the far target outrun the defense to the ball.
After introducing and practicing it, use a phrase like “two targets” to help remind the team how to setup. This is also a good verbal reminder when the team is on the field during a game.
For older kids in the 12U and 14U age divisions, you can use a more intricate strategy that is still easy to execute. The cutter strategy uses movement to break a player free to receive the ball and start the offense.
Have one player line up on the line to the goal about 10 yards from the thrower. Have another line up straight out from the thrower about 15 yards into the field. This player is the cutter.
After getting set, the cutter runs toward the thrower and turns up field staying 5 yards from the touch line.
The goal is to throw the ball to the cutter on the move after they’ve broken free of their defender. This will start a fast attack up the side.
If the cutter doesn’t break free, the secondary option is the player on the line to the goal. Pass to their feet when they are guarded from behind. When guarded in front, throw it over their head and let them run it down.
If the team needs a third option, have a player fill in the original spot that the cutter left.
An often overlooked rule is that the player directly receiving the ball from a throw-in is always in an onside position.
This means you can line up one of your targets behind the defense and not risk an offside penalty. From there, you’ll want to throw deep to this target to allow them to make an attack on goal.
Most youth coaches miss this part of the rule and ignore the players behind the defensive line. That gives you a wide open player to pass to and virtually nobody between them and the goal.
Be aware that after the throw-in is completed, all the normal rules of offside apply.
Defensive Throw-In Strategies
Defensively, you want your kids to do more than stop the other team’s attack. You want your team to win back control of the ball. Again there are simple strategies that you can use to win back the ball.
Basic Mark Strategy
This strategy is very simple to teach and is effective for 8U and 10U age divisions. In a nutshell, it ensures that the other team’s targets are guarded.
While teaching your kids to play defense, you should have introduced the term “marking up”. That term refers to a defensive player guarding a specific offensive player.
In the basic mark strategy, you want to make sure that your team guards any players within range of the thrower. Use the phrase “mark up” to remind the kids to cover the throwing targets.
On offense, younger kids often try running around to lose their mark. This often involves ineffective movement such as running in circles. Teach your players not to mindlessly follow their mark around, but to guard the area that their target is in.
When the ball is thrown, your players will be in the right areas to play for the free ball and win back control.
Step In Strategy
This strategy is a simple extension of the basic mark strategy and is good for 10U and older age divisions.
In this strategy, the defensive players will position themselves behind their marks. This gives the thrower the impression that the player is open for a short control pass to the feet.
When they try to make the short pass, have the defensive player step around the target and in front of them. This puts them in perfect position to intercept the pass and regain control of the ball.
For this strategy to work, timing is key. The defense has to learn to wait until the ball is being thrown to make their move. It’s all about being sneaky.
Putting It All Together
Most youth coaches end up focusing mostly on throw-in technique. You can bring balance to your approach by also teaching your team strategy. This helps the kids start thinking about the elements of the game while they’re on the field.
Use these recommended strategies for soccer throw-ins to give your team a leg up on the field.