Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Coaching the Lineout Throw

I've seen dozens of coaches teach (or try) the lineout throw, and I myself have taught (or tried) to teach it to who knows how many players. I'm convinced that most of us out there are taking the wrong approach.

What's the first thing most coaches look at? Hand position. What's the first thing most coaches SHOULD look at? Outcome.

Let the thrower throw, and see where the ball goes. Then troubleshoot, but resist the urge to simply make them do it the way you did it when you played. The bottom line, the lineout throw is a study in ballistics. How far, how flat, how straight, and how fast does the projectile, in this case a rugby ball, go?

Points for observation:

  • Flight of the ball- is it wobbling, or, does it have a tight spiral (which helps with distance and speed, but really isn't all that important when starting out).
  • Path of the ball - is it straight, or are our jumpers consistently catching it on their side of the tunnel (or worse, are the defense's jumper catching it because it's thrown to them?)
  • Distance of the throw - simply, how far can the thrower throw?
  • Arc of the throw - is it a flat throw, a lob, or what? Does it drop right in on the jumper, or is it overthrow? If throwing to the back, is there enough arc to clear defensive jumpers?
  • Speed of the throw - how long does it take to get from point A to point B? If it's too slow, the defense will have time to contest, if it's too fast, maybe we need to adjust the timing of the jumpers
Once we've determined what's going on, prioritize what need to be troubleshot, and work from there. I like to proceed in this order, although what's most important to you may vary depending on the level of player you work with.

Straight Throw
Necessary Distance
Appropriate Arc
Necessary Distance Again
Appropriate Speed

A straight throw can win you a lineout to the front. As you build distance, you can win a lineout to the front moving backwards, a lineout to the second jumper, and a lineout to the back. That being said, the lineout to the back won't be won't be won consistenly without a suitable arc, so distance and arc need to be continually balanced. It does the team no good if your thrower can deliver a 20 meter bullet if it's snagged by the first defensive jumper.


Can your thrower deliver a straight ball? Don't worry about whether it's a one handed throw or a two handed throw (a big debate here in the US), just see if he or she can throw straight. If not, find out why ...

Where are the throwers hips pointed? If they aren't aligned with the tunnel, then the ball won't be aligned with the tunnel. Don't worry if its one foot up or two feet flat at this point, just look at their orientation to the tunnel. We can work with the feet when we work on power.

Had the hip alignment fixed the straightness of the throw, or is it still off? If it's fixed, great, if not, look at the thrower's follow through. Just like every other sport, if the follow through is off the throw will be off. I like to tell 2 handed throwers to "take a picture" of their target with every throw, to focus on the follow through. For one handed throwers, their delivery hand should be perfectly aligned to the target after every throw. There's lots of talk about weighting the hands, etc, but I find that those problems can be fixed with proper focus on the follow through. Even if the ball tumbles wildly, when the throwers hips are aligned to the tunnel, and when the thrower has perfect follow through at ball delivery, the ball will go straight.

Now that we have a straight throw, whats next? Does it have the power to carry it to the target? If not, take a look at the thrower, and see if you can tell where they are generating power from. Are their arms bend deeply behind the neck (indicating that power is generated through the triceps?) Are the leaning way back pre- throw (indicating that power is generated through the core)? Is the player taking a step forward (indicating power through the hips and legs?) Is there a big wrist snap?

Once you know where player is generating power, you can make work through techniques to generate more power. Focus on using the largest muscles (hips, legs, core) for maximum power generation. Let the player work on their throw while lying flat on the grown, to let them explore power generation from the core, and from a kneeling position to add the hips to the equation. If the player really needs more, add a step. But whatever you do at this phase, don't loose sight of the first phase - straight.

Trajectory (ARC)
In order to be a successful thrower, the ball must not only fly straight and true, but it must have enough arc to clear defensive jumpers, so we can attack quickly off the back. The trajectory of the ball is directly related to the release point. That is, the point in the throw where the thrower actually lets go of the ball. Since we want the ball to clear a jumper, and then drop in on OUR jumper, the highest point in the are is actually going to be in front of our target, so first off, our thrower need to visualize the path of the ball, and then use the peak of the arc as his or her target, and the point where he or she directs the follow through.

Sounds difficult? Maybe, maybe not. If your player has trouble clearing defensive jumpers, or dropping the ball in on a target, let them spend some time throwing over the goalpost. I like to set up a tire underneath and about a meter behind the goal post, and ask the thrower to put the ball in the tire. With repetition, they will learn specifically how they need to adjust their release point, most often without any input from me. As the player gets the concept, you can start throwing over jumping pods. The player will learn that, in order to put and appropriate arc on the ball, he or she needs to release it earlier, so it goes up, in addition to forward.

Distance, AGAIN

As this point, many players, especially younger players, will begin to struggle. Why? Well, when your throwing those big lobs, much of the distance is eaten up in height. That is, an arc is longer than a straight line. So, to be REALLY good throwing to the back, the player must work on trajectory as well as distance. This is a great time to revisit power generation, and remind players how to generate power through their big muscles - specifically their core. I like for players to work on the "Crunch Throw" at this point. Let the player lie on the ground with knees bent and feet firmly planted in the ground. Let then then throw to a standing partner. It's important that the throw happen AS the player crunches to the top, not AFTER, and that the learning re-inforced is that power comes from the core, not from the arms.


Speed is really the finishing touch. Adding the speed component enhances everything - the ball flies truer, further, and, obviously, faster. This is the "spiral". There are many thoughts on how to get the magic spiral that carries with it the gift of speed, here are my thoughts.

It's different for everyone. My personal technique for generating a spiral is to simply use a finger to put a little english on the ball as it leaves my hand. When I work with players, though, I don't assume that they will be throwing exactly the way I do, so we experiment. I like to have each player grab a ball, and genty toss it over head, with the goal of making it spin. They can do it with a thumb, a forefinger, with the throw hand, or with the guide hand. If the player is throwing one handed, he or she can "roll" the fingers off the ball as it leaves the hand, just as if throwing a football spiral (which lets face it, Americans, players can throw football spirals). Whatever method your players use to spin the ball, the key now is to make sure they throw the same way, EVERY SINGLE TIME. The bottom line: If you can shoot one bulls eye, you can shoot 100, as long as you do it the same way every time. Since the spiral is so intimately tied to hand position, a good way to remind players of their key factors, is to simply have them go through a pre-check at every lineout:

Feet .... Hips... Hands ...

Feet and hips are a reminder to align the body with the tunnel ... Hands is a reminder to use whatever hand position works, consistently and meticulously. At this point the thrower is ready to throw.

Target ... Power ... Follow Through
Target ensures the thrower knows WHERE he or she is aiming for ... Power reminds the thrower to use the core, and not the arms, to throw, and finally, Follow Through reminds the player to meticulously follow through directly to the target, wherever it may be.

Lisa Rosen is a USA Rugby and IRB Coach Educator and the Head Coach of the Philadelphia Women's Rugby Football Club. She has worked with and continues to work with USA Rugby's age grade National Team programs, has completed the USA Rugby/IRB Advanced Coaching Course, and is the Head Coach of the Mid-Atlantic U-23 Women's All Stars, 2 time National All Star Champions.


Nick McCardle said...

Nice piece. Lots of things go into lineouts but if the throw can where it needs to be when it needs to be there.......well not much good happens

Greenstar said...

Follow this link to see a Ford Academy video clip to illustrate the lineout throw technique. Hope this is helpful.