We Have Always Done It This Way
Mar 11, 2019
First, allow me to philosophize a bit. In many group or communal settings, some habits are passed on from one generation to the next, with no one questioning the wisdom of the habit.
In soccer, the throw-in is one such moment where the most common play is throwing the ball down the line into a mix of players in a congested area. If you asked the players why they take a 100% possession and turn it into, at best, a 30% chance of retaining possession, they will likely shrug and say "we have always done it like this".
Goal kicks are another example of such habits, where keepers punt the ball up the field and turn possession into a low percentage play.
On average, teams have 30-40 throw-ins per game and around 20 goal kicks each game. That's a lot of missed opportunities to do something constructive to possess and penetrate if all you do is throw the ball down the line or punt it. Considering that teams have between 100-150 possessions per game, throw-ins and goal kicks represent one third to one-half of these moments. Coaches who don't invest the time to prepare their teams to take full advantage of these set plays are giving up a lot of possession for no reason.
We constantly remind our players in ODP practices to use the throw-in to switch the point of attack and we show them how to do that. We insist that our keepers distribute the ball rather than punt it up the field.
To illustrate how the outcome of these set plays impacts the game, let's use statistics from the recent game between the USA U-17 Women's team versus Japan in the FIFA U17 Women's World Cup. The USA team had 31 throw-ins and 20 goal kicks. Of the 31 throw-ins, they threw the ball down the line 30 times and only played it back to a defender once. They lost the ball 24 times from their own 31 throw-ins. Of the 20 goal kicks, they punted all of them and lost possession in 9 of them (they did score their goal off a long goal kick but we cannot count on that to happen often at the highest level).
Japan, on the other hand, had 36 throw-ins and they played to possess all of them. They kept the ball 26 times off their 36 throw-ins and only lost possession 10 times. They had 19 goal kicks, of which they played out of the back 11 times, and kept possession all the times they attempted to play out of the back. They punted 8 times and lost possession off the punt 3 times.
So, Japan had kept possession 42 times out of 55 throw-ins/goal kicks and the USA kept possession 18 times out of 51 throw-ins/goal kicks.
There is a lesson here for coaches. Throw-ins and goal kicks can be used to gain an advantage and it will be worth the time invested to prepare the players for these set plays. Just because we have always done it this way doesn't mean it's the best play.
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