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Basic Heading as PART of an Overall Practice

NOTE: I would NOT do an entire practice on heading at any level as, truthfully, too many repetitions can begin to hurt! I would, rather, run through the basic steps in 1-5 below as a part of practice over the course of a few weeks. I would then move to the more "advanced games", which incorporate not only the basics but tactics and service of the ball, as much as necessary to be sure all is going well. Everything through item #9 below is appropriate for players U-10 and above. #10 is more for U-12 while # 11 is definitely for older players, primarily because of the difficulty in getting good service from the wings. While the basics of heading should be introduced early, be aware that the ball simply does not get up into the air enough to require heading until somewhere around the U-12--U-14 age groups.

The basic guidelines are:

  1. Eyes OPEN!

  2. Mouth CLOSED!

  3. Hit ball with the forehead area between hairline and eyebrows.

  4. Tense the neck muscles.

  5. HIT the BALL! Don't let it hit YOU!

  6. Power comes from your hips and back, NOT your neck.

      The two basic types of headers are defensive and offensive. As a general rule, defensive headers should go HIGH, WIDE, and FAR while offensive headers should be aimed towards ground.

      To start with a group of 12 U-12's, every player should have a ball and gather around the coach.

      1. Everyone holds ball in front of face in two hands and gently taps ball against forehead a few times. Concentrate on eyes open, mouth closed. [Note: eyes WILL reflexively blink when ball is struck but should be open up until that point.

      2. Everyone now "heads" the ball out of their hands and catches it. Ball should start being held against player's forehead. Player then pulls head/upper body BACK while holding ball stationary and then STRIKES ball. Again concentrate on eyes open, mouth closed, hit with proper part of forehead.

      3. Everyone get a partner, 1 ball per pair, stand about 5 yards apart. Player 1 heads ball to partner using technique described in #2 above. Partner catches and heads back. Again, coach repeats eyes open, mouth closed, strike through the ball.

      4. Player's now all drop balls and face coach in a basic "boxer's stance", e.g. one foot forward, one back, well balanced. (To get players in this stance, coach asks players to bounce around on toes pretending to be boxers, throwing imaginary jabs, etc. On "Freeze", players simply hold their stance and will be in proper position.) Coach: "Now look at that big iron bar right in front of you and reach out and grab onto it with both hands about shoulder width apart. Like this (coach demo). Feel it? Big and solid. Now hold on to the bar and lean your upper body back like this (coach demo). Then use the bar to PULL your body forward. Repeat this a few times and toss in blood-chilling karate scream ("yaaaaggggghhhhh!") when body comes forward. Correct those who don't get their arms out far enough, those that don't get a good lean backwards, those that merely drop their hands to their sides when their body comes forward.

      5. Everyone get a partner. Working player assumes proper stance, gets backward lean, and partner tosses underhand lob to be headed back. Repeat 5 times and switch. Coach circulates and corrects eyes open, mouth closed; hit with forehead; being sure that working player stretches arms FORWARD, leans upper torso BACK, and uses arms to PULL upper body through ball.

      End basics. A few exercises for varying skill levels follow:

      1. Set up in threes, two balls per trio, players in a triangle with about 3-5 yards between them. Working player receives underhand lobs alternately from partners. Lobs from partner A must be headed up to partner's head; lobs from partner B must be headed to partner's feet. Run for a minute and switch working player. Coach corrects the basics as above; emphasizes also good serve.

      2. Same formation, 5-7 yards between players, one ball per trio. A serves underhand lob to B who heads to C. C serves A who heads to B, and so on. The difference here is that players are getting a ball coming from one direction and heading it in a different direction as opposed to the simple back-and-forth in the basic work. Emphasize moving entire body to enable powerful headers struck with forehead.

      3. Groups of four with two balls, players in a diamond with approx. 5 yards between players. Single working player receives underhand lob serve, locates player without ball (other than server), and heads to him. Next lob comes immediately. This results in the working player having to deal with balls from a variety of angles, identify a target, and perform header. As players improve, increase distance and allow non-working players to move around.

      4. 6 players plus coach and assistant (or a couple of parents), each with a ball set up on the outside of an area about 20*20. Working players set up in center of area. On "start", working players make eye contact with outside player and check to them, receive underhand lob for [coaches choice: attacking header, defensive header, leaping header, diving header for more advanced players], then continue on around outside of server and re-enter grid to look for another server with ball. Run for a minute and then have players switch roles.

      5. In a field 30*40 yards with small cone goals, divide into two teams of 6 with different color pinnies and play "toss-head-catch" as follows: Sequence MUST be a "toss" followed by a "head" followed by a "catch". Object is to move down field and score on header. Ball turns over to other team if player goes out of sequence.

      6. Put 4 servers with ball pool on right touch line about 25 yards out from goal, coach stands about 20 yards out and 5 yards infield from same line. Put two cones goal-width apart on center line, 1 about 10 yards in from left touch and 1 about 15 yards in. Remaining players line up, 4 on each cone. Server executes wall pass with coach and continues on down touch line towards goal line and chips ball to center. Point of aim is center of goal and between 6 and 12 yards out from goal line (the "second 6"). First two players on center cones time their runs to meet ball and finish with header into goal with player nearest server making a looping far post run and player furthest from server making a straight near post run. Adjust field width as necessary to allow for crosses to reach target area. Further adjustment with coach serving balls or even initially tossing balls in is also possible. As proficiency is achieved, add a third attacker making a delayed center run.

      Updated 8 February 1999
      Overview | Principles | Resources | Guidelines | Practices | Game Day | Very Young | More Reading