Archive for January, 2010

The Worst Part of Coaching—the Tryout

January 27, 2010

For many young players, there is nothing more nerve-racking than trying out for a team. The reasons are plentiful. A player is:

  • Competing against players that may be much better than them.
  • Being evaluated by a brand new coach and is being ranked and rated.
  • Dealing with the internal pressure of possibly not making the team.

The tryout is not much easier for the coach. Sure it is fun to see and evaluate new talent, especially when a player you have never seen before or heard anything about makes a favorable impression. But there is usually nothing harder a coach will have to do the whole season than having to tell a young player that he did not make the team.

As a coach for a number of competitive teams, I have learned over the years some very good practices that make these difficult decisions easier for the coaches as well as for the players and parents.

  • Before the final roster is announced or posted, the players who did not make the team need to be called.
    • If a parent answers, tell the parent why you are calling and when you are done with him or her that you would like to speak to Billy personally. As I wrote in a previous post entitled, ‘Player, Parents, and Coach Meetings and Evaluations‘, tell the parent the good aspects of Billy’s game and character and then a few things that he needs to work on. Also tell the parent that you want to send a thank you letter to Billy that will include an overview of the positives and what he should work on. An email could work, but a letter is more meaningful.
    • If the player answers, take a deep breath and proceed with the unwanted news in a caring and nurturing manner. When you are done, make sure you get an opportunity to talk with a parent.
    • If there is no answer, leave a message asking them to call you back. Don’t leave a message saying Billy did not make the team. If they don’t call back and the next day there is still no answer, send them an email.
  • After the tryouts and throughout the season, make yourself available to the players who did not make the team as well as to the parents. Provide them with your email address and tell them they can contact you any time.
  • Remember the names and faces of the players who did not make your team. When you run into them, call them by name and ask how they are doing. (I am terrible with names so when I don’t remember a name, I ask them to remind me).
  • Try getting the names of the teams that these players end up playing for. Keep this information in a paper notebook you carry with you in a PDA or phone. When you happen across a game that features one of these teams, watch the game. If time permits, talk with the player and parents after the game. If you see improvement in Billy’s game, especially in the areas you mentioned that needed work, mention it. If you don’t have time, send them an email.
  • At some point during the season, send an email to the players that did not make the team and their parents inquiring how things are going.
  • Make sure that during the tryouts the players and parents know how you intend to contact everyone with the results so there are no surprises.

Yes, taking the time to call 10, 20, or 30+ players is time consuming and composing notes about the positives and areas for improvement for each player requires a great deal of effort. But I believe, especially with young players, tryouts must not be a bad experience. Taking the extra time and effort and showing care and compassion will mean a lot to the players and his/her parents who did not make the team. Don’t expect everyone to thank you for your efforts but in the long run, these players and parents will appreciate you.

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Do Turf Soccer Fields Perpetuate Poor Soccer?

January 25, 2010

I remember the first time I ever touched a turf field. My first reaction was how incredibly soft it was. My next reaction was where was this technology 20 years ago when I missed two field goals against the University of Pennsylvania because I could not get ‘under the ball enough’ on the old artificial field? (Brown lost the game 17-14 and I lost my starting position … but really, I’m over it.)

In all seriousness though, despite some of its disadvantages (turf fields can get extremely hot and I hate seeing rubber pellets in someone’s open scab … that can’t be healthy), I think the modern turf fields are fantastic.

However, watching my daughter’s team play an away game on grass (her home field is turf) got me thinking. Are turf fields perhaps doing the sport of soccer a disservice? I know many people, especially soccer purists, would agree with me wholeheartedly (most likely though not for the same reason).

If you have visited my blog or have seen or used my soccer training device called Loopball, you know I am obsessed with ball control and the first-touch, specifically with the inside-of-the-foot. I believe that poor ball control and poor first-touches is the United States’ #1 problem in youth soccer today. Among other things, it results in a much more physical game as is evident in most high school and college games.

Where the turf fields may be doing soccer a disservice is that it may take the challenge out of learning how to receive the ball with the inside-of-the-foot. On turf fields, balls kicked on the ground always roll true. There will never be any unexpected bounces or blips. When the ball is kicked in the air and bounces, unless there is some weird spin on the ball, a player will always know how the ball will rebound off the turf. Essentially, turf fields make it easier to receive and control the ball. My concern is that since it is easier to learn to receive the ball, players and coaches will not spend the necessary time needed to become comfortable with this skill.

This is not a problem on natural grass fields (unless players should be lucky enough to have access to a professional team’s field). On grass fields, players are forced to learn and prepare for the unexpected bounces. As a result, they must spend more time on developing this skill and in all likelihood, will have a better first-touch.

What players and coaches don’t realize is that the skill of receiving a ball can never be mastered. Professional players work on ball control and the first-touch all the time. With the ever-increasing popularity of turf fields, I just hope that players and coaches realize that while it may be easier to control the ball on turf, this skill still needs to be worked on continuously, preferably on grass and preferably on a field that is not in pristine shape.

(Did I mention that the 8-hour bus ride back to school seemed like 8 days and that that loss probably cost us a shot at the Ivy League title … but really, I’ve gotten over it.)

2-3 Goal per Game Difference: Home-Field Advantage

January 22, 2010

Rarely, if ever, do you hear the term ‘home-field disadvantage’. The simple fact is that teams do better when they play at home. This is true at the youth level as well as at the professional level. Less travel time and familiarity with the home field always helps. Home games also draw friendlier spectators.

Besides these reasons, there are additional steps a coach (or League) can take to make the home field even more advantageous.

Scheduling

  • If your team is a morning team, schedule your games in the morning.
  • If stamina is a problem, schedule games on a smaller field. If conditioning is a strength, play on a larger field.
  • If your team has good ball control or plays well on a wet field, schedule games in the morning when there may be dew or frost on the field. Strong-footed players and a good goalie would be another reason to play on a wet field.

Know the ‘Elements’

  • Know if your locale has variable winds. Do you get afternoons wind when the land warms up? If so, know when the winds kick in. It is always preferable to play or go with the wind.
  • Know the position of the sun relative to the field. It is easier to play when the sun is not in your players’ eyes.
  • Know the area’s moisture tendencies. For example, if there is dew, how quickly does the field dry? Tailor the line-up in order to take many shots when the grass is wet.
  • Know the weather forecast. Is it going to rain? Will the field be wet? Is it going to be cold in which case it may take the players a while to warm up? Is it going to be hot in which case by the second half, one team is going to be tired?

While scheduling the times for games can be controlled to a large degree, taking advantage of the elements is much less predictable. After all, it comes down to which team wins the coin toss. If you win, great! If the other team wins, hope the other coach has not done his/her homework.

Don’t forget to tell the captains which side to defend in the first half should your team win the coin toss.

There are few tricks you can try as a coach to help increase your chances of getting the preferred side even if your team loses the coin toss:

  • Arrive early.
  • Warm up the team on the half you want to defend in the first half.
  • Set up your bench on the half you want to defend in the first half.

What tends to happen is that if the other team wins the coin toss, they will elect to defend the side they are already on.

Countering the Opponent’s Home-Field Advantage

Make sure you do your ‘element’ research. Also use the tricks listed above. You may also be interested in reading my post entitled, ‘Coin Toss Alternatives‘. Since the away team traditionally calls the coin toss, some experts hypothesize that this action is not a 50-50 proposition. Knowing the position of the coin prior to the toss could increase your team’s chance of calling the toss correctly.

‘Adopt-a-College-Soccer-Player’ Program

January 20, 2010

A few months ago I noticed a signed photo in my daughter’s room of a local soccer player who at the time was playing soccer at a local university on a full-ride scholarship. I was surprised to see it given that it was over seven years old. This player had been invited to my daughter’s U10 competition team to run practice and talk to the girls about the importance of school and hard work. Her university was nice enough to supply her with action shots that she signed for the girls. Later that year, the players were ball girls at one of the University’s home age. At least for my daughter, this player had made a favorable and lasting impression on her.

In an earlier post I wrote about a ‘Adopt-a-High-Soccer-Player‘ program and how such a program would benefit youth soccer players, the high school soccer players, the school/club/soccer organization, and adult coaches. These same groups will stand to benefit from this program as well. However, because the college/university player is more mature and a better soccer player than a high school player and there are simply fewer college players available, there are different types of ‘wins’ that such a program can produce.

Winner #1: Youth Soccer Player

Youth players will still relate better to a college player than a 40-year-old parent figure. The more youth players who get to hear, see, and interact with the college player, the better. The celebrity factor should make young players more interested in and attentive to a college player than a high school player.

Winner #2: College Student-Athletes

Given the college player’s playing ability and maturity, there are many more roles this player can assume within a Club/League. This player could:

  • Meet, speak, and run a practice for each team in the Club/League.
  • Be a regular trainer for a competitive team. Given the college player’s knowledge of the game, a competitive team with better and more focused players would be a better fit.
  • Become a board member for the Club/League. As a person who is living and experiencing soccer at an advanced level but is not too far removed from being a youth player, he/she could play an integral role in helping develop and shape the future of the Club.

Either one or a combination of these activities or responsibilities would look terrific on a resume or post-graduate application.

Winner #3: College/University Soccer Program

If a college program is able to partner with a local soccer Club/League, attendance should rise as interest in the team increases. The college will have an endless supply of ball boys and ball girls. And who knows, maybe five or 10 years down the road, a few of the youth soccer players who were a part of the ‘Adopt-a-College-Soccer Player’ program will be stars at the same university.

Winner #4: Adult Coaches

Once again, many soccer coaches have little or no soccer experience themselves. Any help or instructions, especially from someone with extensive knowledge of the game can only be beneficial.

Winner #5: Youth Soccer Club or League

If a Club or League develops a reputation for bringing on board local college players to help train its youth players, membership will grow. Having young, knowledgeable, and good soccer players train the Club’s youth players should result in better teams and players. With a good relationship with the local College, perhaps its coach(es) will contribute their knowledge and expertise to the Club/League as well.

Any player who is fortunate enough to play at the college level must be good. Only the ‘cream-of-the-crop’ play college soccer. If there is any way to get such a player to volunteer his or her time to your Club/League, go for it. Only a select number of college players will play and earn a living as a professional soccer player. By giving these players an opportunity to train, teach, and help build and grow a Club/League, they, too, will be part of a unique and valuable experience. It will be a win-win-win-win-win situation for all.

Player, Parents, and Coach Soccer Evaluations and Meetings

January 18, 2010

When my wife and I ask our kids how they are doing in school, the answer is always ‘great’. Fortunately, many of their teachers email us weekly progress reports which give us a clearer, more accurate picture of how they are really doing. However, nothing beats a parent/teacher conference, especially when our child is included.

One year, based on a parent’s suggestion, I decided to offer player/parent/coach meetings for the competitive U11 youth soccer team I was coaching. My only regret was that I did not do it earlier. It turned out to be very valuable for players and parents alike. To this day, I still get compliments from the parents who were part of that team.

First, I wrote individual evaluations for each player. This was followed up with a face-to-face meeting with each player and his parents. Below, I describe the process in more detail.

Evaluations

My recommendation is to do at least 2 evaluations each season, 3 if you are coaching a competitive team.

  • The first evaluation should take place 2-4 weeks after the first practice. By that time, a coach should have a fairly good idea of his/her players’ strengths and areas that need improving.
  • The second evaluation is optional for a house team but is very worthwhile for a competitive team. Mid-season is a great time to have this evaluation. The season is well under way and a coach should have a good idea of where his/her team stacks up against the competition and probably has a game plan in mind for the rest of the year. This is a great opportunity for parents to ask questions or bring up concerns that can still be addressed.
  • The final evaluation should take place just before the end of the season. A coach has seen how the players improved throughout the season and what needs to be worked on in the off-season. This is a great time for a coach to share his/her plans for the following year and to get a feel for what the players and parents have in mind as well.

Evaluation Format

The Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) is a non-profit organization founded at Stanford University that was created to transform the culture of youth sports to give all young athletes the opportunity for a positive, character-building experience. My home league requires that all coaches attend PCA’s “Double-Goal” session before the start of the season. This gives new and seasoned coaches tools to become more effective teachers and coaches.

One particular method that I really like and have incorporated into my evaluations and meetings is called the ‘Criticism Sandwich’. PCA recommends ‘sandwiching’ criticism (or corrections) with a compliment on both sides. The criticism is the meat, while the compliments are the bread.

My evaluations were an open-faced criticism sandwich. I first listed all the good qualities and traits a player possessed followed by a list of areas that needed improving. I always listed at least three good qualities and at least three areas needing improvement. I always had at least one assistant review my feedback not just to get his feedback but to make sure that nothing inappropriate was being said. Always make sure that the areas for improvement are attainable by that player.

Player/Parent/Coach Meeting

I prepared and conducted the meetings in the following manner:

  • I emailed my evaluation to each family before the meeting to give them time to review my feedback and come prepared with any questions.
  • I tried to have the meetings between tournament games. When that was not an option, I set aside a practice and had my assistant run a ‘fun’ practice while I was busy with the meetings (search my blog for fun alternative practice options).
    • Each meeting was no longer than 10 minutes.
    • I used the more traditional ‘criticism sandwich’ during these meeting. I went over the player’s strengths. That was followed by a discussion covering the areas that needed improving. This part was indeed a discussion (not a monologue) because I wanted the player and parents to agree, disagree, or ask questions. I always ended the meeting with lots of positive reinforcements and encouragement and I let the player know that I believed that he had what it took to become a better player.
    • If it was the second or third meeting, I always reviewed the previous improvement list to see how much progress he had made.
    • I always talked directly to the player and included the parents when I wanted to emphasize a particular point.

Yes, it will probably consume many, many hours of your time, especially writing the evaluations. If time is an issue, having only one round of meetings is better than none. This exercise turned out to be very worthwhile and rewarding for myself as well. I feel I became a much more positive coach as I started to use the criticism sandwich technique much more in practice and during games.

If you are not already doing player evaluations and having meetings with your players and parents, I hope you give it a try. I guarantee you that the parents will appreciate the effort.

Youth Fundraising Initiative: FUNDaFIELD

January 14, 2010

I recently came across an article in the Contra Costa Times about a soccer fundraising initiative called FUNDaFIELD. The mission of this charitable organization is to raise money to build soccer fields in impoverished parts of Africa. What really impressed me most about the article were the people were behind this effort. Garrett and Kyle Weiss started this initiative shortly after the 2006 World Cup when they were in high school. Their goal was to raise $100,000.

The Contra Costa Times article announce they had just reached this goal. However, the Weiss brothers and their ever-growing Team plan on continuing this initiative.

Congratulations FUNDaFIELD on reaching this important milestone. May it be the first of many.

Adopt-a-High-School-Soccer-Player Program

January 11, 2010

Parents, who would you rather have train your child’s U8 soccer team? A 40-year-old ex-professional soccer player (I wish that were me) or a Senior from the local high school soccer team? While you are thinking about your answer (do you really need to think about this one), who do you think your 7-year-old child would want to be trained by?

Ten years ago if you had asked me that question, I would have asked if you were serious about giving me a choice. Without a doubt I would have insisted on the ex-professional. Who in their right mind would turn down such on offer? Today, and still in my right mind (I think), I would side with the kids and insist on the Senior high school soccer player.

The biggest reason for this change of heart is that I have learned over the years that soccer, especially at this age, is all about having fun and instilling in these kids the love of the game. While the 40-year-old ex-professional would be able to teach a child to become a better soccer player, I’m pretty sure the kids would have more fun with the high school soccer player.

I used high school players to help me with my Loopball training program. I will be the first admit that I had my challenges. But the challenges were mostly brought about by my high expectations and a curriculum that was a bit too rigid and heavy on the teaching side. But if you look at the photo on the home page of Loopball, those players will remember the young woman long after they remember me.

While there are definite challenges to having a high school soccer player play an integral role on a youth soccer team, I strongly believe that the benefits far outweigh the challenges. If done well, I believe the ‘Adopt-a-High-School-Soccer-Player’ program can be a win-win-win-win-win-win situation for all involved.

Winner #1: Youth Soccer Player

Youth players will relate much better to the high school soccer player. They are closer in age. The youth players look more like the high schooler than the 40-year-old. This player also remembers what she did not like about her youth soccer coach and what in her mind would be a fun practice. Also it is one less adult figure who is telling them what to do. After all, haven’t you and their elementary school teacher already done enough instructing and teaching for one today. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz got it right. After a while, everything coming out of adult mouths is gibberish.

Winner #2: High School Student-Players

What an excellent opportunity for a student-player to experience what it is like to coach/teach young children in a discipline they enjoy. With proper guidance and mentoring, they will have a chance to make a real and memorable difference in these youngsters’ lives. Coaching experience is excellent to have on a resume and looks great on college applications. Who knows, maybe this will inspire some high school student-player to become a teacher.

Winner #3: High School Soccer Program

Assuming a strong bond is made between the high school player and most of her youth players, I’m pretty sure that many of the players will insist they go watch at least one of Sally’s games (at least where I live this would boost attendance quite a bit). If permitted, the high school would also have an unlimited number of ball-boys and ball-girls available for home games.

Winner #4: Adult Coaches

While a coach may be responsible for the well-being and care of another player, the practices should become much easier. Also, given that many coaches have never played soccer, the adult coach will learn a lot about soccer from the high school player. The only thing a coach may have a hard time dealing with is the bruised ego when the players ask, “Where is Sally!?” when she has too much school work or, “Why can’t you be more like Sally?”

Winner #5: Youth Soccer League or Club

If done properly, the League should have many more returning youth players year after year because of the fun factor. The League should also be able to attract more coaches since the workload will be easier and the excuse of not having any soccer experience will no longer work. Because the young players are having fun, I believe more of them will stick with soccer longer and therefore, become better soccer players.

As far as the 40-year old ex-professional goes, have him/her coach an older competitive team. That will also be a win-win situation.

Improving Throw-ins: Putting it All Together (part 4 of 4)

January 8, 2010

In this (potentially) final posting on improving throw-ins I write about putting all the pieces of the earlier posts together into a game plan and philosophy so that teams that have adopted the ‘let’s-throw-the-ball-down-the-wing’ strategy can be more imaginative and use the throw-in more to their advantage.

First a quick recap.

  • Checking-in: Instead of a field player running down the wing or simply standing still, field players should check-in to the thrower in order to improve the throw-in retention rate.
  • 180 Choices: Too often, throw-ins are simply thrown down the wings. On most areas of the field, the thrower should exercise his/her options and also look to throw the ball backwards and into the middle of the field. The 180 choices refers the number of degrees in a semi-circle and thus, the number of throw-in options a thrower should exercise.
  • Hit the Feet: The easiest way to control a soccer ball is with the feet. Therefore, it is imperative that the thrower aim for and hit a field player’s feet. This becomes more difficult when the player is moving and checking-in.

The final ingredient that binds these aspects of the throw-in together is ‘movement’. For most throw-ins, especially those between the penalty areas, a minimum of three players should make themselves available to receive the ball from the thrower. Let’s look at the examples below:

  • An attacker (A1) should check-in to the thrower (Thr). When an attacker checks-in, a defender (D1) will usually follow. If the defender follows, A1 can pass the ball back to the thrower, pass it to another player, or make an instant move and beat the defender. If the defender does not follow, A1 should control the ball and turn up field. It is a good idea for the thrower to get into the habit of communicating with the player(s) checking-in. For instance, ‘man on!’ can be called out by the thrower if the defender is following his/her teammate or ‘turn!’ if the defender does not follow.
  • A midfielder should also check-in (M2). It is important that the player checking-in does it abruptly so that he/she can separate him/herself from the defender (D2). Equally important, M2 should either make eye contact with the thrower before checking-in or call for the ball to get the thrower’s attention. ‘Here!’, ‘ball!’, or calling the thrower by his/her name are acceptable commands.
  • The thrower’s defensive teammate (D3) should also be available to receive a throw-in. However, instead of checking-in, D3 should move away from the thrower while keeping constant eye contact with the thrower. The reason you don’t want a defender to check-in is because if the ball is misplayed, it could lead to a scoring opportunity for the other team. Usually there won’t be an opponent on the defender so having a greater distance between the thrower and the defensive teammate should not cause a problem. There is no need for this teammate to draw attention to him/herself. The thrower should always know that a defensive teammate is available for a throw.

A fantastic by-product of checking-in is that it creates open spaces and, therefore, more throw-in options.

  • When M2 and D2 check-in, they create open space where they once stood (denoted by the orange circle). When M4 moves into the vacated space, he/she becomes a fourth option available to the thrower.
  • The same thing happens when A1 and D1 check-in. The wing area (blue circle) is now open space that A5 can fill and give the thrower yet another throw-in option.

With seemingly little effort by the field players and recognition on the part of the thrower, any team can turn the throw-in into a more advantageous play. However, this is easier said than done; otherwise all teams would be doing this. I have found that movement off or without the ball is one of the toughest things to teach and instill in young players. Many kids simply focus on the ball and many times get so captivated by its movement that they become spectators on the field. Conditioning, or the lack thereof, also can play a role. So what is the solution?

As I wrote in my other throw-in posts, the best way to instill the concept of movement for throw-ins is to instill this concept with non-throw-in drills and small-sides games. Checking-in, seeing the field, accurate passes, good ball control, communication, and movement takes place every second during a game. If these skills are developed on the field, improved throw-ins will be a by-product of these new and improved skills.

Fun Practice Alternative: Catch

January 6, 2010

I played American football in high school and college. I was both a field goal kicker and punter. One trait often overlooked in kickers and punters is their creativity. There are only so many kicks and punts these players can practice before they either develop a dead leg or simply die of boredom. When I played, we needed to be creative to get through most practices. When I was not working on field goals or punts, I enjoyed playing catch. We would take turns being the quarterback and pass the ball to kicker/punter turned-receiver teammates running prearranged routes. We would also play catch by having the receiver run down field and instead of throwing the ball, we would punt the ball, The goal was to hit the receiver in stride.

A similar game can be played at a soccer practice. Here’s how.

  • Come up with a few pass routes. Some short and some long.
  • Divide the team into 3 groups: left-sided receivers, right-sided receivers, and the quarterbacks (kickers).
  • Have a receiver run one of the routes and have the quarterback pass the ball to the receiver in stride. Kick the ball off the ground so the receiver has to catch it. The ball should be stationary when kicked, like a free kick or corner.
  • Make sure everyone gets a turn playing all three positions

Once the players begin to feel comfortable with this game, add some variations:

  • Add new routes.
  • Have the quarterbacks chip the ball high into the air or have them kick it ‘on a line’.
  • Have the quarterbacks kick with their weaker foot.
  • Instead of catching the ball, have the receivers control the ball with their feet.
  • Add a defender so the pass needs to be more accurate.

This fun practice alternative is great for the quarterbacks. It gives them an opportunity to work on:

  • Touch. Chip shots, regular kicks, or power passes all require different types of touches to be put on the ball. During a regular game, correct ball touches are important.
  • Kicking into open space. Since the receiver is moving, the quarterback needs to pass to the spot where the player will be when he/she receives the ball. This should happen in a soccer game all the time.

The receivers benefit as well.

  • It gives them an opportunity to receive and control the ball from unusual angles. This is a great exercise for the forwards.
  • It reinforces the need to always be moving.
  • Running the routes helps with fitness.

If playing ‘catch’ with a soccer ball is not a big hit, break out some footballs. While throwing and catching a football will not benefit the team much from a soccer perspective, it will still be a nice break from a regular soccer practice.

Improving Throw-ins: Hit the Feet (part 3 of 4)

January 4, 2010

This is the third in a series of posts that discusses how to improve throw-ins. The first two throw-in posts covered checking in and throwing in to all areas of the field (all 180 choices).

You often hear coaches telling their players to pass the ball on the ground. This is great advice. After all, it is easier to control a rolling ball than a bouncing ball. But what should a coach tell the player who is throwing in the ball from a throw-in? Rolling the ball is not permissible and passing the ball on the ground is impossible given the angle from which the ball is thrown. But if a coach were to instead instruct a player to pass the ball to a player’s feet, this instruction could apply to a throw-in as well.

There are times when it is not doable or desirable to throw in a ball at a player’s feet. Some examples would be when:

  • You want a field player to flick the ball with his/her head.
  • Throwing the ball into an open space.
  • Throwing a long distance throw to an approaching player.

But for the most part, the player taking the throw-in should always aim for a player’s feet. Ideally the ball will land directly at the player’s feet. But as you can see in the photos below, there is some leeway. The ball can be thrown as high as the knees (transparent blue area) and up to a few feet in front of the player (transparent red area). If the ball is not directly at the player’s feet, it is expected that the receiver will make the necessary adjustments.

There are many advantages to throwing the ball to a player’s feet.

  • It is easier to control the ball. Players are used to and more comfortable controlling the ball with their feet when the ball is on or near the ground.
  • A player has the best control stopping the ball with his/her feet.
  • A player has more options for a next move when the ball is controlled with the feet. For example, receiver of the throw-in can:
    • Pass back to the thrower.
    • Pass to another teammate.
    • Control and turn.
    • Beating a defender with a quick move.

Throwing the ball accurately is much easier said than done. Most throwers are conditioned to throw the ball down the wing as hard as he/she can. Now when a player is running at them, it becomes a challenge to time the throw with the player checking in. What also tends to happen is when a thrower tries to take a little pace off the throw-in, the throw-in technique changes enough (i.e., the ball is not placed behind the head) to result in a foul throw-in.

If you read my other throw-in posts, I’m not a big fan of working on throw-ins during practice. This is in large part the result of seeing many coaches spending too much time on throw-ins. However, I am a fan of making sure that the game of soccer is played and taught properly. I also believe that when a team is in possession of the ball, they should take advantage of the situation and not just give the ball away.

With that in mind, the following exercise will help players develop more accurate throw-ins and also reinforce the act of checking-in.

  1. Team up players in pairs.
  2. To warm up, have the two players stand 5 yards apart. Have them throw the ball back and forth to one another (Scenario A) using proper throw-in technique.
  3. Next, have them move 10 yards apart. Have the receiver break toward the thrower (Scenario B). The goal is for the thrower to time the run and throw the ball at the advancing player’s feet. Have the receiver control the ball, pass it back, and then return to the 10-yard spot. Repeat this 5 times and then switch the thrower and receiver.
  4. Repeat this same exercise at 15-yards apart (Scenario C) and 20-yards apart (Scenario D).

During the exercise, make sure that:

  • Good throw-in technique is used (hands behind the head and both feet on the ground).
  • The players make eye contact with one another and the receiver calls for the ball.
  • The ball lands at the receiver’s feet or within the designated area.
  • The receiver controls the ball properly.
  • The receiver breaks away quickly from the imaginary defender.
  • The receiver passes the ball accurately and with the correct pace back to the thrower.
  • The receiver returns quickly to the prescribed starting spot and repeats the check-in (this is a great conditioning exercise for the receiver).

Remember that the player receiving the throw-in does not always have to pass the ball back to the thrower. When the ball is passed back, I often see the thrower simply kick the ball up-field without much thought. In my opinion, this action is just as bad as throwing the ball down the wing. The player receiving the throw-in should always be aware of the defender’s and his/her teammate’s positioning. Based on this information, the receiving player has many options after controlling the ball. Make sure towork on these options and incorporate them into the exercise above.