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The Tempo of Set Plays

by Stewart Flaherty

The effect set plays can have on a game of soccer are plain for all to see, English Premier League teams such as Stoke City are renowned for their ability to score from free kicks, corners and long throw ins. Also, the ability to defend effectively from set plays such as corners or attacking free kicks is huge. It is possible that 90 minutes of solid work can be undone by one slip at a set play, especially in high level games.

Even in youth soccer the older soccer players get, and the more competitive the games become set pieces and restarts can be the difference in a game. Here we look at different forms of set play and restarts, and the impact they can have upon a game. Some differences are obvious, whereas some sich as tempo and pace, are more subtle.


Throw ins rarely find themselves high on the agenda of any coach, and outside of Stoke City are not often found in highlights packages. However, it is possible to turn throw ins into an advantage if you emphasize the right message to your players.

Throw ins can be very telling in regards to the mentality and physical fitness of a player. When a throw in is awarded during a game, many players will look to take a breather. Throw ins can be a sub conscious break in the game, and many players stand flat footed, this is a poor habit and can cost your team.

Defensively, a mere second of rest can lead to the opposition getting in behind you and causing your team problems. If a midfielder is beaten with run behind from a throw in your defenders will be left outnumbered and exposed, if a defender is beaten the results can be even worse. The rules state that there can be no offside call from a throw in, so if a defender rests momentarily, an opposition player can be directly through on goal.

As a coach you should consistently reinforce the need to immediately focus when a throw in is awarded, not only will this improve their defensive ability, but will develop positive habits and consistent mental focus.

Long throw ins can also be a weapon if you have a player capable of delivering one. Under these circumstances, you should treat them like a corner, and practice getting a flick on or header on goal from these situations.


Free kicks in goal scoring positions are important, but restarts all over the field should also be addressed and rehearsed in your coaching. In the middle and defensive thirds of the field, you have one of two options.

The first is to play the ball quickly, this sets a tempo for the opposition to keep up with, and can have all the advantages that are mentioned above for throw ins in regards to the opposition taking a momentary break and your team taking advantage.

The second option is to run a rehearsed free kick. If you have a player on your team with a long passing range you could use these restarts as an opportunity to put the ball in a dangerous position out wide, or to give a high ball for forwards to hold up. It is important that this becomes a long pass, rather than an aimless kick to give possession away. If your team is unable to consistently maintain possession from this method, you should maintain a quick tempo and play short to get the ball in play.


As a coach you should teach your team to play with tempo at restarts. One way to do this is to count down from three seconds every time the ball goes out of play or a free kick is awarded. If the ball is not in play after three seconds, the other team is awarded possession.

When first implementing this you may notice young soccer players becoming flustered and being rushed into bad decisions, but after time it will improve. The element of decision making under pressure will serve them well in all forms of the game.

When practicing tempo, always have a supply of extra balls by the sidelines so a ball kicked a long way does not hold up play excessively.