There are, according to Thomas Gronnemark, two paths into employment in professional football: the traditional way, or the expert route. He’d certainly know. With 19 years of experience in professional football, Gronnemark’s expert role as the world’s first professional throw-in coach has seen him play a part in thirteen titles with clubs as diverse as Ajax, FC Midtjylland, Flamengo, Philadephia Union and Liverpool. But it hasn’t always been so simple.
“Being a specialist, you have to have a little more patience,” Gronnemark said. “When you’re the very first, it can be hard. People within football may not accept the need for you, even mock you.”
Through continued success, Gronnemark has helped to change attitudes within the industry. Professional clubs are now employing dedicated set-piece coaches, while Gronnemark’s client base is continuing to grow. Since 2018, he’s been full-time in his role as a throw-in coach. “For many years I had a couple of clubs that I’d work with, but I was not making enough to live on,” he said. “I had to have two jobs on the side – one as a motivational speaker, the other in education with youngsters. Those jobs gave me security and allowed me to support my family financially.”
The idea to focus on throw-ins stems from Gronnemark’s love of football in the 1980s. He found himself fascinated by throw-ins, and spent time training his own throws. It wasn’t until 2002, however, that such passion started to give him ideas. “I was representing the Danish national bobsleigh team,” Gronnemark recalled, “when one day we played an indoor football game against the German bobsleigh team. I threw the ball from one end of the court to the other, which was about 40 metres. It impressed everyone and made me realise that I had a talent for throwing.” The praise stuck with Gronnemark. If he was good at throwing, he reasoned, he could also teach others to be good at throwing. At first focusing on increasing throwing distance, he studied and analysed professional football, then created his own course in throwing. Once satisfied, he approached his local professional side, Viborg. “They agreed to give me a go and I began to improve the players’ throws,” he said. “The team scored lots of goals from long throw-ins. That season, they managed their best-ever league finish.”
With word spreading of Gronnemark’s success, and more clubs enquiring about his availability, he looked to develop his skills further. Conducting his own research, he found that in the world’s top leagues most teams lost possession of the ball from more than 50% of their own throw-ins. “I was shocked,” he said, “losing the ball has the same consequence whether it’s from your hands or your feet. There are 40-60 throw-ins per match on average. Up to 20 minutes of each match is spent taking throw-ins. We aren’t talking marginal gains here – they’re gigantic gains.”
Gronnemark still spends time improving throwing distance, but increasingly he finds himself working on ‘fast and clever’ throws. “How can we create team space to keep the ball, create a chance, or score a goal after the throw?” Gronnemark summarised. “In defence, how can we limit space for the opponent? I teach players how to read the space and opponents’ defending patterns, then to assess their options.”
The role varies depending on each club’s requirements. Sometimes Gronnemark can find himself working with individuals, other times with entire units or even the whole squad. Usually, though, he begins with the basics before progressing into small-sided games with fast throw-ins and finally zone-specific practices.
Though he has pioneered his own role and is widely recognised as an expert in the field, Gronnemark is always looking for ways to improve. “I’ve taken lots from athletics and basketball to hone my work,” he said. “I’ve even got inspiration from things outside of sport, such as the formation that starlings fly in and the Roman army.”
For those looking to carve their own path into the football industry, Gronnemark had some advice: “Get knowledge in your chosen area. Develop your specialism. It’s a fantastic time to be in football. Clubs now have so many specialist coaches. Women’s football has opened up. Take as many courses as you can. There’s so much free knowledge out there.”
Through persistence, dedication and research, Gronnemark created his own expert route into professional football. The throw-in revolution is now in full swing.
Find out more about Gronnemark’s work: https://thomasgronnemark.com/