Heads Up (Learning Key Heading Skills)
Heading the soccer ball is one of the most essential skills to learn in the game of soccer. It is crucial for defensive players to clear balls in the box, midfielders to win critical aerial battles and attackers to be able to head the ball past an opposing keeper to score a goal.
The right way of heading the football is with your forehead. This is the hardest and flattest part of your head, and it will give you better control over the ball direction as well as giving greater striking power. Your forehead is quite flat, but the top of the head is curved, so the forehead is a much better surface for being able to control where the ball will go.
Keep your eye on the ball. The most common mistake for a rookie is taking your eyes off the ball or to shut your eyes before you try to head the ball. It is not possible to get into position or to time the header correctly if you do not keep your focus on the ball. Even the experienced players can lose concentration and lose the ball position. Experienced players understand timing, and are able to judge the different speeds of an incoming ball. Whether it is a high lofted ball into the area, or a powerful strike into the box that only requires a FLICK header (See Below) to guide the ball into the goal
The player should head the ball with a smooth motion of the entire upper body. He should be well balanced with knees bent, and his neck, back and torso are in a straight line. He should lean back before the ball arrives and then uses the power from his neck, shoulder and stomach muscles to strike the ball forward.
Positioning is important. The proper method is to get in line with the ball before it comes down, so that you are in the optimum body position, take time to balance yourself before the ball arrives. Make sure your neck stays stiff as this is where the power comes from. Your neck, back and trunk should be in a straight line.
Be positive. You should be heading the ball rather than the ball heading you! In other words, you should attack the ball rather than just letting the ball come in contact with your forehead. Choose where you want the ball to go before you head it.
This is not as important of a skill for the younger players under 10 years old since the ball rarely lifts off the ground.
Do not try jumping headers at this stage. It is important to get the basics right first, and you can add the jumping header to improve your talents later. When your feet are firmly on the ground, your legs can be used to push your torso upwards at the ball when you are attempting to head the ball.
Technique for properly heading a ball:
- Neck must be kept stiff, younger players can be taught to tuck their chin towards their chest to stiffen the neck
- Head moves toward the ball
- Keep your eyes open and on the incoming ball
- Players must use their back and stomach muscles in their back and stomach for power
- Ball must be struck and not bounce off the head
- Keep your back slightly arched as ball approaches, leaning forward only after striking the ball
- Contact with the ball should be made on the forehead just above the eyebrows.
- Knees must be kept slightly bent, this maintains balance
- Timing is critical. The jump is made in conjunction with the incoming speed of the ball
Attacking Headers Skills
Offensive heading places an importance on accuracy finding the exposed area for a goal. Attackers should be encouraged to get the forehead and eyes over the ball so attacker is able to power the ball in a downward direction.
Defensive Headers Skills
To direct the ball upward players should get their forehead and eyes under the ball and more upward through the ball as soon as contact is made with the ball. Players should use their legs to push the up and through the ball. The emphasis on defensive headers is height, distance and width.
The attacking header skill is a lot different than the defensive header skills.When attacking, the focus is on heading the ball downward towards the goal line to score a goal. It is important that the player try to head the ball downward towards the goal line because this is the most vulnerable spot. When defending, the purpose of headers is to clear the ball away from an opponent heading the ball from the defensive situation and clear the ball from the attacker. Heading the ball high and away gives other defenders time to reorganize defensively; heading the ball away from goal denies an immediate threat on goal as does heading the ball wide.
The Flick Header
The flick header gives you the opportunity to play the ball in any direction off your head. This technique is usually used in front of the near post when the ball is crossed from the wing. This method of heading makes it very difficult for the soccer goalkeeper to grip the ball. Instead on the ball being played in a downward manner, the technique require the turning of the head on impact with the ball to guide the ball with a glancing strike, this method is more about precision and less about power
- Tossing a high serve to a partner and making them jump and return the ball to the server. This practice hones the necessary timing skills. This practice can be adjusted by the team mate throwing the ball moving further away from his team mate, and also changing up the speed and height of the incoming ball.
- Header sit-ups. Player does sit-up as a team mate tosses a ball to them and he then heads ball back his team mate.
- Team mates head the ball back and forth to one another. This practice can be adjusted by the team mates moving further apart, this causes the player to have control the strength of the header.
- Alone, trying to keep the ball in the air using only the head.
- Alone, Using a wall as a team mate, head the ball at the wall and try to keep the ball from falling using only your head
- Throwing the ball to a team mate and getting them to head the ball back to the server. This practice can be changed up to focus on defensive or offensive headers.