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Basic Heading

Ages: 8+; Equipment: Cones, balls, several old pair of pantyhose; Players: 4+


Any type of warm-up activity can be used which will get the players working. An extended warmup game is advisable for younger players, as heading work tends to be more sedentary and younger kids pay attention better if a bit tired.

Individual Work

Start by letting some air out of several balls to make them a bit soft. Take an old pair of pantyhose, and tie a ball in the crotch area, then tie the ball to the top of the goal with the legs. Put up several balls at varying heights.

As players arrive, give them a quick illustration of the basics of heading and then let them experiment with the hanging balls.

The key coaching points for heading are:

  1. Put feet in a wide fencer or boxer stance, with knees bent and weight centered evenly (see a good description below on teaching this stance)

  2. Keep the neck stiff, and use the waist/back to move the head toward the ball.

  3. Eyes OPEN!

  4. Mouth CLOSED!

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

  6. If you hit the ball on its bottom half, the ball will go up.

  7. If you hit the ball on the upper half, the ball will go down.

As a general rule, defensive headers should go HIGH, WIDE, and FAR, while offensive headers should be aimed towards ground (as ground balls are harder for keepers to handle). So, defenders usually will aim for the bottom half of the ball, while attackers usually will aim for the top half. Initially, of course, what you really want is the courage to try the technique, so don't get too concerned about where the ball is hit.

If you don't have any pantyhose available, another option is to do the following:

  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. Players 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.

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; hitwith forehead; being sure that working player stretches arms FORWARD, leans upper torso BACK, and uses arms to PULL upper body through ball.

Small Group Work

When the players have had several minutes to experiment with heading, put them in pairs, with one partner between a set of flat cones about 3 yards apart and the other outside. Have the "keeper" toss the ball to theoutside player, who then tries to head the ball back across the line. Let them try to score on the ""keeper", as this turns the drill into a game, and the partners can have a contest over who can score the most out of 5 tosses.

Once good success has been achieved, divide the pairs up so that you have groups of 3. Use the extra player as a shadow defender, who just stands behind the receiver. Rotate players around after 5 headers. Now, introducethe idea of getting your arms up to shield your face and head from another player who may be trying to get the ball too. Allow the shadow to start jostling and trying for the ball (but only at about half speed). Continue with rotations.

Progression 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. This progression may be too advanced for younger players, who tend to do better by learning one specific skill at a time (e.g., heading downward).

Progression 2: Move players farther apart (about 5-7 yards), and put one ball down. Player A serves underhand lob to B who heads to C. Player C serves A who heads to B, and so on. The difference here is that players aregetting 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. This progression, and the progressions which follow, probably will be too difficult for players under about age 10-11.

Progression 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 workingplayer having to deal with balls froma variety of angles, identify a target, and perform header. As players improve, increase distance and allow non-working players to move around.

Progression 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.

Large Group Work

Option 1: Put several players around the edges of a large circle, with about 2-3 players inside circle. All of outside players have balls. Inside player asks for service, then heads ball back to server, and moves to another server. Swap out inside players after 5-6 headers. Then, add shadow players who tag along, and then gradually allow increased pressure from shadows (but allowing receiver to cut back or break to get serve). Jump in quickly if you see any player not getting arms up for protection, as serious facial injuries can occur in head collisions.

Option 2 (for more advanced players only): 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 fromserver 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.


Option 1 (for younger players): Allow a regular scrimmage, but count any goals off of headers as 2 points. Alternatively, count ANY header as a 1 point. If you taught headers and chest traps consecutively, you might counteither a chest trap or header as a goal.

Option 2 (for players 11+): Set up a field 30x40 yards with small cone goals, divide into two teams 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 or ball is not caught off of the header or header is not done correctly. Variation: If you combine the teaching of heading/chest traps into one session, or did consecutive sessions, you can modify the rules to allow either header or chest trap. For older players, you can add flat chest trap, followed by flick-up of ball for header by another player, into the sequence.

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