There is a game that I see both youth and adult soccer coaches use as a warm-up exercise that I don\’t think is very good or effective. I called it \’Throw-in Keepaway\’ but I believe there are other names for it. The game is played as follows:
- Players are divided into two teams.
- Using the proper throw-in technique (with the ball behind the head with 2 hands and the feet on the ground), the ball is passed to an open player on the same team.
- The open player needs to catch the ball to earn a point. A point is earned with each successful catch. Points accumulate as the ball is successfully passed and caught by a teammate. If the passing team drops the ball but retains possession, the point total goes back to zero.
- If the ball is caught or recovered by the other team, the other team starts passing the ball around and accumulating points in the same fashion.
- The team with the highest point value wins.
This game does get players loose and it is fun in its uniqueness. But I don\’t like some of the negative aspects that are associated with the game:
- It promotes bunch ball because most players can\’t throw-in very far.
- In the haste of finding and passing the ball to an open player, poor and improper throw-in techniques are often used.
- Because of the close confines, there is a greater chance of players running into each other and getting hurt.
Instead, I recommend playing a game called \’Ultimate Soccer\’. Ultimate Soccer (US) is very similar to \’Ultimate Frisbee\’ (UF). Like UF, US is played with a Frisbee on a field that looks like a football field, with end zones at either end. A point is earned each time the Frisbee is caught in the opposing team\’s end zone. A player who catches the Frisbee outside of the end zone must advance the Frisbee by throwing it to a teammate; the player is not allowed to advance the Frisbee by running with it.
US could be played using UF rules, but I prefer a slightly modified set of rules that make US more soccer friendly.
- US should be played on an age-appropriate soccer field with the end zones starting on the goal line and extending out to the top of the penalty box (see image).
- Similar to soccer, US kick-offs (or throw-offs) start at midfield with the Frisbee being tossed backwards (this is different than UF where the Frisbee is thrown downfield by the team that scored a point).
- Unlike UF which requires the defense to play a man-to-man defense, in US teams are allowed to play a defensive zone if they wish.
Sure many players may struggle throwing the Frisbee. To help, make sure that each game begins with a warm-up throwing and tutorial session. Then let the fun and benefits begin.
- Movement off the ball
In \’Ultimate\’ if a player stands around, he/she will never receive a pass and if they do, it will be intercepted. In soccer, I have found a lot of players just stand around waiting for the ball to be passed to them. \’Ultimate\’ will help players move.
- Finding the open space
Now that there is movement, where should a player move? Simply put, \’open space\’ is any place there is no other offensive or defensive player. Finding and moving to the open space requires looking at the entire field and not just at the Frisbee.
- Playing with the head up
To find the open space, a player must play with his/her head up in order to see the entire field. In soccer, players often focus only on the player with the ball and seldom on their surroundings. Ultimate will force players to play with the head up.
- Passing to the open space
One of the best parts of \’Ultimate\’ is it teaches the thrower to throw the Frisbee not at the player but rather to the spot where the player will be when he/she has completed a move. I have found that passing to the open space is one of the hardest concepts to learn in soccer. US will reinforce this skill.
- Discourages kickball and one-touch soccer
At the youth level, many players simply kick the ball away as soon as it comes to them without ever controlling it first. With \’Ultimate\’, this is not possible. A player has to first catch the Frisbee before a pass can be made. At the youth level, it is critical for a player to learn the importance and skill of ball control.
- Running toward the Frisbee
\’Ultimate\’ players will learn very quickly that unless they run toward the Frisbee once it is thrown to them instead of waiting for the Frisbee to come to them, a defender will always step in front of them and intercept the pass. The same thing happens on the soccer field if a player does move toward the ball when it is passed to him/her.
- Verbal and body-language communication
The US field is large. The player in possession of the Frisbee can\’t see the entire field at once. He/she needs help from teammates. Body language, such as pointing to the spot you want the Frisbee thrown, as well as verbal communication, is an important key to any team\’s success. I don\’t think there can ever be enough communication on the soccer field, especially between players.
US is a fantastic way for soccer players to get in game shape. It simulates game-like conditions. If US is played at the end of practice, the players are guaranteed to be exhausted by the end. Yet they\’ll have had lots of fun!