Take the fear out of heading

Lots of kids don’t like heading the ball – but there’s a surefire way of helping them to overcome the fear factor.Play it safe

As always safety is paramount, so…

  • Start heading sessions when players are aged about eight or nine
  • Don’t overdo heading sessions with young players – keep them short
  • Make the distances you’re asking players to head the ball suitable for their age
  • Don’t introduce opposition to sessions until kids are confident and old enough to cope with physical contact
  • Try a softer ball to help build confidence
  • Technique and accuracy first – power can always be added later.
  • Finally, remember: if they’re timid, it’s because they’re scared, so coax them gently.

It’s only natural

A child’s reluctance to head the ball – they often close their eyes and let it drop on the top of their heads – is to do with fear. After all, it’s only natural to want to keep your head out of the way of an object you think might hurt it.

Gently does it

The simplest way to gain confidence is to gradually introduce players to the feeling of their forehead meeting the ball. Begin with asking them to balance the ball on their forehead. Then allow them to have a ball each, and just gently throw it up, head it in the air and catch again. Once they’ve tried that several times, ask them to try to head it twice before catching the ball. Then three times and so on.

The next stage is for them to throw the ball up to themselves and then head it to a partner standing approximately 5 metres away, who repeats the exercise.


So far, you should be encouraging your players to:

1. Watch the ball
2. Keep their eyes open
3. Head the ball with the forehead
4. Aim for the middle of the ball

Once they’re comfortable with the previous practice, increase the distance to about 10 metres, and this time have the players serve the ball underarm to each other. It’s at this stage that, as well as the four points outlined above, you should coach your players to:

  • Move into line with the flight of the ball
  • Use the neck muscles


Head up, head down

Heading the ball from danger – The aim of defensive headers is to achieve distance and height. Distance, to keep the ball away from the goal, and height, to give more time for the defence to become organised to repel the next attack.

To achieve this, as well as the techniques already mentioned, players should:

  • Keep their eyes below the ball
  • Head the bottom half of the ball
  • Be almost side-on with the body
  • “Attack” the ball
  • Take off on one foot
  • Use the arms for elevation
  • Arch the back before heading the ball
  • Head the ball at its highest point
  • Land on both feet

Heading to score – The big difference between defensive and attacking headers is that attacking players are generally looking to head the ball down. That’s because heading the ball down makes it tougher for goalkeepers to make a save. For the same reason, attackers should try to be accurate and aim for the corners of the goal.

The key to the attacking header is to get the eyes over the ball and head the top half of the ball.

Heading for success

Heading the ball is a skill that’s often overlooked. Ignore it, and you could be throwing away the chance to gain a crucial advantage over your opponents. All it takes is a little bit of patience and a lot of practice.

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