An Excerpt from the US Youth Soccer Skills School Manual – available in full under “Player Development Resources” on the ASC website.
(The age group in maroon is the age group when you should focus on developing the skill.)
Perhaps the most unique of techniques in all of team sports, heading the ball takes courage, timing, and precision. Few players truly master this skill and those that do contribute significantly to the team.
(Introduce basic heading & form at U9/U10)
Standing or On the Run
- Forward to score goals off the half-volley (U11/U12)
- Forward to score goals off the volley (U11/U12)
- Contact the center to the top half of the ball
- Forward to pass (U14)
- Redirected pass (U14)
- Flick backwards (U14)
- Contact the horizontal midline (equator) of the ball
- Forward to clear (U11/U12)
- contact the bottom half of the ball
Airborne from a stationary jump or on the run
- Jumping double let (U11/U12)
- Jumping single leg (U11/U12)
- Diving (U14)
- Twisting to Flick (U14)
Key Coaching Points
- Preparation: move to get the body in line with the flight of the ball and preferably with the hips squared to the ball; the feet should be about shoulder width apart (alternately they can be in a staggered stance) and the toes pointed toward the target area; knees slightly bent; lean backwards at the waist while simultaneously bringing the arms up and forward for balance; eyes on the ball; neck muscles locked to keep the head steady
- Contact: once the ball is within a yard distance from the head snap the upper body forward from the waist with the arms simultaneously snapping backward; keep the arms slightly bent at the elbows and a little out from the sides of the body for balance and protection; at the moment of contact the knees should straighten (if the feet are staggered then the rear foot should come forward now) to add body weight to the force impelled to the ball; strike the ball on the forehead – close to the hair line; it is important to strike through the ball and not merely let the ball rebound off the head
- Follow Through: lean the upper body forward on the follow through; throw the eyes (follow through) towards the target spot as this will increase contact time between the ball and the forehead thereby increasing accuracy; the power for heading the ball comes from the legs, lower back and abdominal muscles; strike the top half of the ball to guide it toward the goal line or the middle of the ball for a flat flight
The first phase is with the ball moving towards the player (above). Second phase is with the ball moving across the body of the player (below).
Key Coaching Points
- Preparation: move to get the body in line with the flight of the ball and preferably with the hips diagonally set to the ball and goal; the feet should be about shoulder width apart for a double leg take off or staggered for a single leg take off; bend both legs; swing the arms backwards obliquely; upper torso is inclined forward; keep the eyes fixed on the ball
- Contact: swing the arms suddenly upward and forward; legs straighten out vigorously at the knees and ankles to push off the ground; keep the head steady with the neck muscles locked; strike the ball with the forehead at the height of the jump; the upper torso is reclined moderately and then snaps forward to put power into the header
- Follow through: follow through with the head towards the target; land on both feet; on landing the knees and ankles should bend low to absorb the shock of the landing; straddle the legs wider than in the preparation phase to maintain balance
The actual heading technique is the same as described previously. The swing of the arms is not so pronounced and they are moved only forward. The torso is inclined slightly when the arms are swinging and at the moment of straightening the knees and ankles. During flight the body is directed obliquely forward. Consequently landing is on the hands and feet under control.
To Pass (standing or jumping)
All points are the same as with the To Score section (standing or jumping respectively) above with the exception that the ball is contacted at line B. To pass the ball sideways rotate the upper torso in the required direction immediately before contact so that the surface of the forehead and the torso finish at a right angle to the direction the player wishes to redirect the ball. Simultaneously with the upper torso rotation the trunk sways slightly back in order to help in the striking action of the head.
To Clear (standing or jumping)
All points are the same as with the To Score section (standing or jumping respectively) above with the exception that the ball is contacted below line B. Additionally the forehead should be tilted upwards. All clearances should be high, wide and long.
High = above the heads of opposing players Wide = towards the flanks of the field
Long = as far away from the defending team’s penalty area as possible
With the Head (standing)
Key Coaching Points
- Preparation: feet pointed in the direction of the target space; knees slightly bent for balance; lean upper body back at the waist before ball contact; neck muscles locked to keep the head steady; eyes on the ball
- Contact: snap forward from the waist to impact the ball; strike the ball with the forehead; arms slightly to the side for balance and protection
- Follow Through: follow through with the upper body towards the target space
With the Head (jumping)
Key Coaching Points
- Preparation: single or double leg take off; heels come up towards the buttocks; lean upper body back at the waist before ball contact; neck muscles locked to keep the head steady; eyes on the ball; time the jump according to the flight of the ball
- Contact: snap forward from the waist to impact the ball; snap the feet forward during the striking motion; strike the ball with the forehead; arms slightly to the side for balance and protection
- Follow Through: follow through with the upper body toward the target space
Flick (standing or jumping)*
A flick header is a simple redirection of the ball without any additional impetus being added to the ball. The flick can be done while stationary, on the move or while in the air. As the ball touches the forehead turn the head with the neck muscles in the direction for the ball to be redirected. While the ball can be flicked backwards with a backwards motion of the head it is preferable to turn the head over the shoulder and to twist at the waist to flick the ball backwards as in this way the eyes can move with the ball on the follow through to improve the accuracy of the flick.
*Never do a flick on header when backing up. The risk of serious head/neck/dental injury to either the person heading or the defender (or both) is great. Flick on headers should only be done when the header separates (runs toward the ball) from the defender, but never when backing up.
THE BODY MECHANICS TO HEAD THE BALL ARE EASIER WHEN FACING THE INCOMING BALL. IT IS POSSIBLE, WITH EXCELLENT TIMING, TO HEAD THE BALL, WHEN IT IS BEING CROSSED, WITH THE HIPS FACING THE GOAL LINE, BUT THE UPPER TORSO MUST BE TWISTED TO FACE THE BALL AND THEN TWIST BACK TOWARDS THE GOAL UPON CONTACT WITH THE BALL.
Training Activity: Heads Up
Play 3v3 + GK in a 20 x 20 yard area with one goal set up in the center of one goal line. The goalkeeper plays for the defending team. The activity begins with the attacking team in possession of the ball at the goal line opposite the goal. The attackers attempt to score as many goals as possible in 6 minutes. A kicked goal is worth one point. A goal scored off a header is worth two points. After a goal the attacking team restarts with the ball at the far goal line.
Teams play normally in minutes 1, 3 and 5. During minutes 2, 4 and 6 the coach calls, “Heads up!” and 1 minute of heading by the attacking teams begins. The ball is now tossed by hand to teammates who may pass or shoot the ball with a header. The goalkeeper is active at all times, but the defending field players are frozen during this time. Switch teams after 6 minutes of play or when ten points have been scored.
U5/U6 & U7/U8: inappropriate activity
U9/U10: play using a volleyball and a 6 yard wide goal
U11/U12: use a 6 yard wide goal and a size 4 soccer ball
U14: use a 8 yard wide goal and a size 5 soccer ball
Figure 22 Heads Up