How to Head a Soccer Ball

Heading the ball is unique to soccer. Since soccer players cannot pass the ball with their hands and arms, they often play the ball off their heads, and it's kind of flashy and fun to watch! Ultimately, a good header begins with your mental frame of mind, and being willing to go for it. However, done incorrectly may not only cause you to foul the ball, it can lead to serious head or neck injury.

Most head injuries result from two players going after the ball at once and heads collide. Though soccer's not technically a contact sport and is generally safe, statistically, it has the highest rate of collision injury compared to any contact sport, including American football! And yet, soccer players need to approach the ball with unbounded confidence!

You shouldn't be afraid of heading the ball. So, master the art of heading and you'll not only be a much more confident player, you'll minimize your chances of sustaining an injury. This brief guide covers the basics of why and how headers are done, and includes a few beginner soccer tips and drills to get your game safely 'headed' in the right direction.

Why. Since hands and arms can't be used in soccer, heading is a common strategy for moving the ball. Players use different styles of headers, depending on their field positions. Headers can be used to defend the ball, make passes, or attack the ball into the goal. Defenders often come from underneath the ball to keep it in the air and out of the opponent's reach. Midfielders pass to teammates in all directions. Passes can be done in either a straight line or an arc. Offensive headers aim to attack the ball straight down, making it next to impossible for the goalie to intercept it. There are of course more advanced ways of performing a header, such as diving. A good place to begin heading is to learn a basic pass.

How. To make the most of a header, you'll need to master a few basic techniques and training drills. Though headers are usually done from a jumping position, they can be performed while standing. You may want to begin from a standing position to get the upper body mechanics down.

Steps for heading a soccer ball

  1. With feet apart, lean back to generate power
  2. Engage your core, and let your whole upper body come forward to meet the ball
    • Keep your arms out for balance, but don't stick them out like a bird
  3. Keeping your eyes open, hit the ball squarely with the forehead between the hairline and brow
    • Don't hit with the top or side of your head
    • Hit while your head is in line with your body, not while leaning back, or forward
    • Meet the ball at the highest point of your jump to get the most power
  4. Land with your feet apart, paying attention to your landing to avoid injury

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Soccer tips

  • Practice a move until you're comfortable
  • Keep kids' soccer drills short
  • Don't be afraid of the ball
  • Keep your eyes open!
  • Go to the soccer ball, don't lunge at it
  • Lean back before hitting, to generate power
  • Engage the core, and come forward with the whole upper body
  • Don't use your neck to generate power
  • Hit the ball squarely on the forehead
  • Hit the ball while the head is in line with the body
  • Meet the ball from the highest point in your jump
  • Use your arms for balance but don't stick them out like a bird
  • On attack, be aware of your timing - jump a little early, hit the ball straight down
  • To hit high in the air, come from underneath and aim for the lower half of the ball
  • Be aware of your landing, keep feet apart

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Basic header soccer drills

Mastering soccer headers not only makes you a powerful player, it can lessen your chances of injury. Soccer players should practice proper heading skills from the very beginning. Since most soccer players don't use head protection, learning the correct technique becomes especially important.

Here's an easy drill to reinforce basic skills. You can vary this drill to simulate a variety of game experiences.

Need: Just a partner and a soccer ball. You can also do this drill alone by tossing the ball up to yourself.

How it's done: Your partner lightly tosses the ball toward you, or toss the ball up to yourself. Stand at first, and add the jump when you're ready. Following the basics of heading, hit the ball with your forehead. Partner gently tosses the ball underhanded with both heads. Repeat ten times, rest, and do as many sets of ten as you can until you're comfortable. Now, mix up the drills. With your partner, take turns heading the ball from a toss, then heading from a kick, working up to heading back and forth. Simulate game situations! Take turns running towards, and jumping up to head the ball. Be creative with this! And remember to keep youth soccer drills fun and short. Children starting out often don't like heading the ball. Whether coaching or playing, your goal is to build skill, strength, and self-confidence.

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