Diving through the air head first to reach the ball among swinging boots and shifting players is gutsy. A diving header is one of those spectacular and acrobatic moves that almost always dazzles. Although it’s a technique that is very difficult to master and takes great amounts of coordination, courage and fearlessness, if used correctly, it can be one of the deadliest weapons for a player.
Master these 4 steps to the diving header and you will have people ooh-ing and ah-ing in amazement.
It is important to note that the diving header is preferred by attacking players as it can be used around the net to reach the ball before defenders, but defensive players can use it to their advantage too in order to reach balls ahead of the attacking player. In any case, it remains an offensive tool.
Before we start, lets see what a diving header looks like:
Step #1 – Learn where to head the ball and how to break your fall. The ball needs to be headed with the hairline of your forehead. This is the hardest part of your head as well as one of the flattest parts of it. If the ball is hit above that point you are likely going to see stars. If the ball is hit below that point, you are likely to have a nose watering the field with blood. The best way to get a feel for this header is to get on your knee’s and hands; resemble the stance of a dog. Have someone stand 4-5 feet away from you. The player with the ball in their hands needs to throw it with decent pace while you leap forward off your hands and knee’s to connect with the ball at your hair line. Continue to do this until you feel comfortable with the positioning of your header.
Now begin to focus on breaking your fall. Use your hands to break your fall. At the end of the header, you should be on your chest. Do this repeatedly until you are comfortable with the way you are breaking your fall.
Once you feel comfortable with both heading the ball and breaking your fall from this position, now stand up and do the same exercise from your feet and diving forward. Lead with your hands. There should not be much change from when you were on the ground on your hands and knees. Your body should be parallel to the ground when you head it, the ball should connect with your hair line and you should break your fall with your hands.
Step #2 – Keep your eye on the prize. Too many players develop a bad habit of closing their eyes when they head the ball. For almost every single player, instinct has us shut our eyes right when contact is made with the ball – this is ok. What is not ok is shutting your eyes way before the ball connects with your forehead. The longer you keep your eyes open the better a chance you have of seeing where you should head the ball. Keeping your eyes open allows to to adjust to the situation as it develops.
Step #3 – Hit the ball, don’t let it hit you. The reason so many players are afraid to head the ball is because it hurts when they head the ball…or should I say when the ball heads them. The only way to avoid this pain is to attack the ball and hit it. The more strength you put behind a header, the less it will hurt, I promise. That is why so many coaches and trainers teach players to use their neck and upper body to swing at the ball and make contact; it is this way that you develop the necessary energy to hit the ball with enough authority to make it count. With the diving header, although you can’t use your upper body and neck to develop strength, the necessary strength is achieved through the legs and the wind up. It is achieved via the legs because you are to use your legs to leap forward. It’s not a matter of just jumping forward, you have to jolt at the ball like lightning. Also, the faster you run at the ball and the more speed you build up, the quicker you will get there and the harder you can dive at the ball.
Step #4 – Practice running onto the ball and anticipating. So many time, players ONLY practice the diving header on the spot and as a result do not get a real understanding of how to anticipate a diving header. When a player is making a run, the ball will usually be crossed anywhere from chest level to knee level. As players approach the ball, they need to pick up speed and dive on to the ball. As mentioned in point #3, do not slow down, pick up as much speed as you can and leap at the ball. For this exercise you will have to have someone throw the ball to you from the end line or have someone who is more accurate cross the ball in.
The reason the diving header is so effective is because you will beat the defender to a cross almost every time. But don’t forget, you won’t beat the defender to the ball is you are jogging into the box – it needs to be an all out sprint. Just watch the video above a few more times to gain an understanding of how fast players run into the box.
- Please be cautious of where you dive. Understand that the diving header is extremely dangerous if it isn’t carried out correctly.
- If you do not know how to break your fall, you will hurt yourself.
- If you do not know where to head the ball you will hurt yourself.
- Be sure to flex your neck muscles and have a stiff neck when heading the ball otherwise it can result in an injury/whiplash.
As always, practice makes perfect. The more you practice the diving header the better you will be at anticipating when you can use it and how to use it. Use it correctly and you can add another component to your game that makes you valuable.