Are winning throw-ins critical to being a successful team in high goal polo? The consensus among many is that the team who wins more throw-ins has an advantage throughout the game due to the extra possessions it creates. But does that necessarily lead to more wins?
Throughout the entire 2016 USA High Goal season in Florida, the winning team averaged 12.9 throw-in wins per game, while the losing team actually averaged more at 13.1 throw-in wins per game. Players and officials alike constantly refer to throw-ins as a 50/50 play, which in itself contradicts the theory that winning teams are better at throw-ins as each given time it is a 50/50 chance. Further to that point, 57% of all throw-ins are indirectly won, meaning the ball bounced off a pony’s leg or was deflected before the possession was won, which further decreases the likelihood of winning a throw-in purely by skill.
However, there is an advantage in throw-ins, albeit a small one. Players starting to the left of the umpire, with their offside closer to where the ball is being thrown in, won 56% of all throw-ins. Also, teams were more successful winning throw-ins toward the back of the line-up as 77% of all throw-ins were won either in the middle or back of the line-up.
So if both teams average approximately the same number of throw-ins, and more than half the time, the ball is unexpectedly deflected off a pony’s leg, how can teams best prepare for throw-ins? The answer lies not with what happens during the throw-in itself, but what happens directly after. Of all attacking plays generated during the USA season, 20.1% originated from throw-ins, trailing only open play interceptions as the most common way for an attacking play to begin. More surprising may be the fact that of all of those throw-ins that resulted in an attacking play, 61% were done by a single player attacking individually with no passing.
More possessions are always beneficial, yet throw-in outcome often depends on how the ball bounces or the small advantage by being positioned to the left of the umpire. With a high percentage of attacking plays beginning from throw-ins, a strategic change needs to be considered, moving away from just focusing on the number of throw-ins won or lost. The importance needs to be placed on how to best utilize the throw-ins your team does win and create scoring chances, but more importantly, preventing your opponent from attacking when you lose a throw-in.