Modern football is all about marginal gains. From the increasingly detailed planning of corner and free kick routines at the top end of the game, to the decisive technical improvements brought about by pioneering coaches like ball striking expert Bartek Sylwestrzak, footballing minds are always looking for ways to gain an advantage.
One key area of the sport that has received more attention in recent years, as the benefits of specialist set piece coaching become clearer to football industry professionals, is the humble throw-in. During the managerial tenure of Tony Pulis, Stoke City, and Rory Delap gained notoriety for their heavy use of long, direct throws, which was extremely effective. And while Pulis' reign was followed by a decade in which long throw-ins were a rare sight in the Premier League, things have started to change again.
In this article, not only will we explore the rise of the long throw-in, favoured in recent seasons by innovative top flight clubs such as Brentford, we'll also give you a much broader guide to this fundamental aspect of football. The throw-in is an essential feature of association football, and has been since before the turn of the 20th century. This article will provide you with everything you need to know about this basic soccer skill, as well as a step-by-step guide to how to throw the ball effectively. So let's launch ourselves into it.
When it comes to set pieces in soccer, the throw-in is the most common of the lot. Forget corners or free kicks — according to research, there will typically be 40-50 throw-ins in any given professional match (equating to one roughly every two minutes), meaning it's easily the most regularly occurring set piece.
Because of how consistently we see the ball thrown onto the field of play, it's become a part of the game that we often take for granted. But what exactly is a throw-in in soccer?
Throw-ins are a method of formally re-entering the ball into the field of play, much like you would with a corner kick or goal kick. They occur when the ball has exited the soccer field via the side of the pitch, as opposed to going beyond the touchline at either goal end. Throw-ins are awarded to one of the two teams involved in a match; whenever the ball goes out of play to the side of the pitch, the opponents of the player who last touched the ball before its exit (deliberately or accidentally) are awarded a throw-in, ultimately regaining possession.
That being said, it's extremely common for teams to lose control of possession immediately after taking a throw-in. According to Thomas Gronnemark, a specialist throw-in coach who has worked with clubs such as Liverpool and FC Midtjylland, "There are 40-60 throw-ins per match and most teams lose the ball in 50% of these situations." His work focuses on rebalancing that by improving teams' ability to retain possession from a throw-in. But keeping hold of the ball isn't the only thing to consider; there are a number of rules and technical details that must be kept in mind to ensure a throw-in is taken perfectly...
The throw-in is listed as Law 15 in the English Football Association (FA)'s Laws of the Game. According to the official entry, "A throw-in is awarded to the opponents of the player who last touched the ball when the whole of the ball passes over the touchline, on the ground or in the air."
The process of taking a throw-in is outlined in acute detail in the laws of the game. Not only is it stipulated that a goal cannot be scored directly from a throw-in (if it goes straight into the opposition net, a goal kick is awarded, whereas if it goes straight into the thrower's net a corner is given), there are also several aspects of the throw-in-taking procedure that must be remembered.
1) Throw-ins must be taken from the point at which the ball left the field of play.
2) When throwing the ball, the player must stand facing the field of play, with each foot on the touchline or on the ground outside the touchline.
3) The ball must be thrown with both hands from behind and over the head. You can't throw it with one hand, like a goalkeeper.
4) When the throw-in is taken, all opponents must be standing at least 2 metres from the point on the touchline where the taker is stationed.
5) The ball is in play as soon as it enters the field of play. If the ball touches the ground going onto the field, the throw-in is retaken by the same team from the same position.
6) Once they have taken the set piece, a thrower cannot touch the ball again until it has touched another player. Once another player has touched it, they're free to start looking to get the ball back.
7) If a player appears to take a throw-in but then leaves it to a teammate to take at the last minute, they can be cautioned for delaying the restart of play.
8) If a throw-in is not taken correctly, it is deemed a "foul throw" and is awarded to the opposing team from the same position. There are a couple of other potential offences that can take place, too: if an opponent unfairly distracts or impedes a throw, they can be cautioned for unsporting behaviour, and an indirect free kick can be awarded if the throw-in has already been taken. If the thrower commits a handball offence, a direct free kick can be awarded.
It may seem like a lot to remember, but the basics of taking a throw-in are so ingrained in the game that it comes naturally to most players who take throw-ins regularly. That being said, if you're unfamiliar with the process, it can be a little confusing. Therefore, in the next section of this article, we'll take you through how to take a throw-in, step by step.
Follow the steps below, and you'll be able to deliver the ball from a throw-in easily when called upon.
1) Pick up the ball with both hands, placing one hand evenly spaced on each side of the ball. Picture a clock: generally speaking, your right hand would be at 3:00 and your left at 9:00.
2) Position yourself on the touchline, at the point where the ball exited the field of play. You're allowed to stand on the line itself (which is technically in the field of play); however, if you'd like to add distance to your throw, it can be helpful to take a run-up (but make sure you don't cross the line). During a run-up, some players will also drag their back toe along the ground to help boost the power that they can generate; both feet must be touching the ground when you release the ball (with part of each foot behind the line), but your back foot doesn't have to be planted firmly on the ground.
3) Arch your back when taking the throw. Most of the power should be generated from your back and shoulders, springing the ball forward even when you're in a static position.
4) Bring the ball up from behind the head and release it when it's over the top of your head. Legal throw-ins need to travel "from behind and over his [or her] head" and while referees are often lenient about throw-ins (particularly at the top end of the game, where foul throws are hardly ever awarded), it's important to start with the ball held above your head.
5) Use a simple forward flick of the wrists to release the ball. Keep your head straight and high, release it above your head, and then join the teammate you've thrown it to on the pitch, preparing to play the ball if needed.
There are a number of soccer throw-in drills that can help you finetune your ability to throw the ball in different ways for different purposes. Head here for a few examples of practically-minded soccer throw-in drills.
A throw-in awarded within the opposition's final third provides a unique opportunity for an attacking team. Rather than simply taking a short throw-in and looking to keep controlled possession of the ball, the option of launching the ball from distance into the opposition penalty area becomes available. And over the years, this has repeatedly proved a popular tactic.
There was Chelsea's Ian Hutchinson, whose jaw-dropping throw led to the winning goal in the 1970 FA Cup Final, and then Andy Legg, who gained recognition at Swansea City in the 1990s for temporarily holding the world record for the longest throw-in in football (44.6m). And of course Rory Delap, whose name became synonymous with the long throw-in during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 Premier League seasons, when his launched throws wreaked havoc amongst defences and created 24 goals, according to Stats Perform data. On the world stage, there have even been advocates of more experimental techniques such as the soccer flip throw in performed by players like Leah Fortune.
In recent Premier League seasons, the long throw-in trend has re-emerged, with Brentford becoming a regular proponent of the long throw-in. Aided by the employment of set piece specialists such as Bernardo Cueva, Gianni Vio (a member of Italy's Euro 2020-winning coaching team), Nicolas Jover (now at Arsenal), and Andreas Georgson, Brentford have used a data-led approach to become one of England's most effective team from throw-ins.
It makes total sense — The Athletic recently reported that while short throws in the final quarter of the pitch create an average Expected Goals (xG) of 0.010, when the ball is thrown into the box, the xG more than doubles to 0.022. The data is there — long throws are the future.
Want to find out everything there is to know about another important soccer skill? Check out our guide to the half volley in soccer, and how to hit a perfect strike.