Heading is one of the first basic skills you are often taught—even at a young age. It’s an important concept to learn correctly, especially since doing it improperly can lead to injuries. Not only is heading an extremely important skill to use—whether you’re attacking or defending, but when done correctly, it can be a total game changer.
In this article, you’ll learn how to head a soccer ball and how to deal with the fear of it. You’ll also learn about the different types of headers, and learn tips to help you perform a header correctly. Dishing out the perfect header is difficult, but when it’s executed properly, it’s a beautiful thing.
Technique for Heading a Soccer Ball
Proper technique to head a soccer ball can be an in-depth, and step-by-step, detailed process. However, for a quick look into the technique, follow these steps:
1. Keep Your Eye on the Ball
Especially if you’re afraid, you’ll tend to want to close your eyes before you make contact with the ball. However, it’s important that you keep your eyes on the ball—not only does this decrease the likelihood of you missing the ball, it also will help you make proper contact with the ball, avoid an opponent, and aim your header.
2. Keep Your Knees Bent
Especially since you need to distribute your weight and power into your header and maintain balance, keeping your knees bent will help you harness that power and get ready to spring. You should just never have your knees locked while you’re playing soccer.
3. Lean Back
Before you approach the ball, tilt your upper body backwards to begin the build of momentum before you transfer all that energy to the ball.
Once in the air, though, you’ll need to point your upper body towards the ball, and not lean back any longer. Leaning back will cause the ball to go straight up into the air after hitting your head.
4. Attack the Ball
If the ball is too high, squat down slightly and use that building momentum to power yourself upward into a jump. Push off the ground and time it just right so you’re making contact with the ball in the air.
It’s extremely important that you attack the ball and don’t let it just hit you. Push your body and head in the direction of where you want to ball to go, carefully timing it so that you head will strike the ball while it is moving forward.
5. Use the Correct Part of Your Head
Try and make contact with the ball in the middle of your forehead. This will help you generate the most power and maintain proper form so you have less of a chance of getting injured.
It is very common for people to head the ball too high on their head. Avoid this by practicing frequently.
6. Follow Through
Just like when you’re passing or shooting, you’ll want to follow through, long after you’ve made contact with the ball. You can twist your head to direct it in the direction you want it to go.
How Not to Head a Soccer Ball
One of the most common issues for people learning how to head a soccer ball is to strike the ball too high on their head.
This is a natural reaction, mainly because as the ball is traveling towards your head, your instinct is to “duck” and not get struck in the eye.
The reality is that you want to ball to hit your forehead, not the top of your head. And your forehead is just above your eyes.
Allowing the ball to hit you above the forehead is both dangerous and ineffective. You can cause light-headedness and even a concussion by letting the ball hit you at the top of your head.
In addition, you will have no power or direction when it strikes you up top. The ball typically careens high into the air in a random direction.
Dealing with Fear
Even the most professional of players sometimes try and avoid headers as much as possible. For a good reason—doing a header incorrectly can actually be pretty dangerous, leading to possible concussions and brain damage.
However, when done properly, you have much less of a likelihood to get injured, which is why learning how to head the ball correctly is extremely important. Once you do it a few times, you’ll come to find it isn’t that scary, at all.
You also have to take a proactive approach—attacking the ball instead of letting it hit you.
Once you’re ready to conquer the header and the ball, here are a few headers that you can try out:
Different Types of Headers
Heading the ball directly into the goal isn’t the only way you can use this skill in a game.
1. Diving Header
This might be a little bit of an advanced move—and the timing has to be just right or else you’re eating dirt for nothing. When a ball is lower than chest height and in crossing in front of you, you can try and perform a diving header.
Right before it comes across your way, dive towards the ball and keep your eye on it at all times. Once you make contact with the ball, land on your arms and chest.
Executing a diving header is really though because you have to use perfect form, while also managing your body as it dives through the air. However, you get quite a bit more power from a diving header, because you’re thrusting your body into it.
2. Defensive Header
Extremely useful in set plays like a corner kick or a free kick from the other team, you can use a defensive header to clear the ball as far away from the goal as possible. To perform a defensive header, you should first win the ball in the air and direct it “up and out”.
Directing it upwards will keep it out of reach of the opposing team who are in your box and out will get it further from the goal line.
You must be very careful that you direct the ball properly with this type of header. If you end up mis-hitting it, you could end up with an own-goal (scoring on your own team), or heading it to the opposition.
Whenever you are heading the ball in front of your own goal, safe is better than sorry. Consider directing the header out of bounds if you have any concern about where it could end up.
3. Offensive Header
Use this type of header when trying to score on goal. What’s important here is to head the ball downward. It will generate more power, seem more direct, and will get out of the goalkeeper’s reach.
This is common to see when a corner kick is being delivered in, or a winger driving hard down the side of the field. In either case, a cross is sent to the front of the goal, with the intention of a striker or forward putting an offensive header on target.
4. Flick-on Header
Virtually a pass, this is a great header to use if you want to make a fast pass to a teammate or flicking it to the sides of the goal. When used quickly, these can be deadly.
You’ll often see this type of header from a goal kick. When your goalie kicks a long ball to you in the air, you can jump up and do a flick-on header to a teammate that is streaking down the field.
5. Trapping Header
You can actually control the ball down to your feet with a header. This is also a bit more advanced for beginner level but with some practice, you can get it!
When the ball is approaching head height, you should make contact with the ball and tap it (not too much power behind it) straight up in the air. The ball should fall back down to your feet, then you can control it more.
You’ll see this used by all players on the field, but especially defenders. Often, if an errant pass is played, this can be the best way to regain control of the ball.
Additional Heading Tips
Now that you know how to head the ball and all the headers that you can perform, you should realize that performing them in a game is a whole other challenge. However, these tips should help you execute a perfect header:
Related: How to Prepare for a Soccer Game
Especially if you are a shorter player, anticipating where the ball is going to go before it gets there will give you the advantage that you’re lacking in height.
Don’t think that you can win headers as a shorter individual. With proper anticipation, you can find yourself in the right place at the right time.
2. Protect Yourself
When going up for a 50-50 header against another player, defend yourself with your arms. The last thing you want in these situations is a head-on-head collision. Not only does it give you space, it also protects yourself.
You aren’t allowed to lash out with your arms at the opposing team member, but you can keep them up against your body to protect against anything happening.
Headers can create a lot of danger in the air, and so the more you can do to protect yourself, the better.
Repetition will not only help you feel more comfortable with the skill, it will give you the time to get better at it!
Headers are one of those skills that are really difficult at first, but will become second nature with enough practice, just like when passing the ball. At first, it feels as though you’ll never be good at it. However, after enough practice, it will be easy for you.
Especially for coaches that are in charge of young players and their development, it’s important to get the technique of heading a soccer ball just right. This will reduce the risk of injury and help promote proper technique for optimum performance.