PROVO — Take the gymnastic element of a front handspring, the physics of centrifugal force and a soccer player willing to go heels over head on demand along a tight sideline, and you've got the sport's rare "flip" throw.
And Jennifer Rockwood, head coach of the BYU women's soccer team, has the luxury of not one but two players — midfielder/defender Brooke Thulin and forward Annie Zwahlen — who can take the ball on an out-of-bounds sideline play and catapult the ball a considerable distance back into play.
"It's really an awesome weapon," said Rockwood.
The rules for restarting play in soccer from the sidelines seems simple enough: throw the ball over you head, with both feet on the ground. Some players try to get a little momentum and distance on the ball by taking a lunge or a couple of running steps, planting the forward foot and then dragging the toes of trailing foot on the ground while releasing the ball. Longer throws will generally be five to eight yards.
Athletic players who can do a front flip have taken the inbounds throw and added a more acrobatic technique, resulting in greater distances — upwards of 40 to 50 yards, or half the width of a college soccer field.
The flip throw starts with the player taking three or four jogging steps toward the inbounds line, grasping the ball with both hands, lunging forward to do a front flip and placing the ball on turf. Then comes the intricate timing of releasing the ball after landing on both feet without crossing the sideline, with the momentum of the flip combined with the throwing motion sending the arcing many times farther than a traditional throw-in.
Thulin has been the Cougars' flip-throw master for several seasons, with her tosses perfect for when she plays midfield or defense — she can throw the ball well upfield to BYU's attacking forwards. But she also moves farther upfield for throw-ins closer to the opponent's goal as well, with the flip throw essentially becoming the equivalent of a corner kick.
A flip throw cannot go directly into the net for a goal. It has to be put in play — or touched — by a teammate or an opponent.
BYU scored a goal last month in a 4-0 home victory against TCU, with a Thulin throw-in going to the Cougars' Jamie Beck, who collected the ball and tapped it past the keeper and into the goal.
As a forward who needs to stay higher up in the offensive attack, Zwahlen has fewer opportunities for flip throws than Thulin — she's usually relegated to the throw-ins on her side near the goal for a corner-kick-like throw.
Zwahlen got her first taste of flip throws last season, when Thulin was not on the Cougars' roster and Rockwood recruited her to try the front-flip move. Zwahlen's first few attempts in practice were memorable, but not for the right reasons — her struggles with the timing and release resulted in her throws going only a few short yards and backward instead of forward.
With practice, however, Zwahlen mastered the flip throw for BYU's 2004 season.
As a youngster who participated in both gymnastics and soccer, Thulin got her start at age 12, when her father encouraged her to give the flip throw a try. Her first target while attempting the flip throw in her yard was trying to toss the ball into the bed of a pickup truck.
Opponents try to throw off Thulin and Zwahlen by standing inbounds near the anticipated launching area, attempting to become a physical obstacle and a visible distraction. One drawback for the opponent, however, is the prospect of having a bullet-like throw-in ricocheting off the forehead, as was the case with one of Thulin's throws in a Mountain West Conference game earlier this season.
BYU women's assistant coach Chris Watkins, who is the head coach of BYU's men's team, says that while flip throws are seldom seen in women's games, they are even more a rarity in men's competition. The reason is that the flip is a gymnastic move that more girls than boys have practiced growing up.
Not everyone is an all-time proponent of the flip throw. Following BYU's 1-1 tie with Utah in Friday night's drizzle at South Field, Ute coach Rich Manning said he thought the Cougars' use of the flip throw slowed down their quick-strike attack, since Thulin and Zwahlen not only had to set up the throw but take time to find a nearby towel and try to dry off the ball for the intricate toss.