Alex Hansen takes a throw-in early on during an Idaho State women's soccer game. She knows that what she's about to do is going to cause a buzz in the crowd.
So she backs up about 10 feet from the sideline, ball in hand, and gets a running start. After about five steps, she plants the ball in the ground, flings her body over the ball and lands on her two feet just behind the out-of-bounds line. She then uses her core muscles to force her torso back up, and she throws the ball just as the momentum is at its peak. In one violent motion, her acrobatic "flip throw" launches the ball 40 yards toward goal, like a cannon.
Predictably, Hansen's method is met with "ooohs" and "ahhhs" from a crowd not expecting such a scene.
"It's fun," Hansen says. "It's definitely something people get excited about."
The flip throw is a rare weapon in soccer. Mostly, it's a throw used in the attacking third of the field, and is almost exclusively done by soccer players with an extensive gymnastics background, like Hansen.
In short, flip throws entail doing a front handspring with the ball underneath your hands, then launching the ball when enough potential energy is built.
Done right, it can place the ball perfectly within striking range in front of the goal, something most normal throw-ins can't accomplish. Flip throws can be as opportunistic as a corner kick, which is why they're so valuable.
"All of my coaches," said Marquette men's player Michael Alfano, another flip-thrower, "have encouraged me to use it."
Learning the Skill
Alfano also has an gymnastics background dating back to kindegarten. When a teammate on his U13 team mentioned the possibility of doing a flip throw, he was intrigued.
"So we started practicing it in a gym for a couple of weeks," Alfano said.
After about a month of practice, Alfano tried it in a game. He hasn't looked back.
"I haven't done a normal throw-in in a long time," he admits.
Hansen was a little more cautious. She was about 12 years old when her mother saw someone do a flip throw at a soccer tournament in Salt Lake City. She immediately encouraged Hansen to put her gymnastics background to good use on the soccer pitch.
"I practiced it for a long time, because it took me a long time to land on my feet," Hansen said. "Even the first couple of times I did it in a game, I fell on my butt. That was kind of embarrassing, but every time I did it, I kept getting better and better."