Heading A Soccer Ball: 13 Pro Coach Tips

A frequently overlooked technique in the game of soccer, a header is a fundamental skill in the sport that many players find difficult. Perhaps one of the main reasons for this is that headers are not taught or coached very well.

How do you head a soccer ball?

The main types of headers that a player should try to master are: basic headers, defensive headers, attacking headers, diving headers. With each of these, there are fundamental steps and techniques that must be learned, such as;

  • Keep your eyes on the ball
  • Drive-through
  • Attacking the ball using your body
  • Connect with the ball using your forehead

Certain drills might incorporate heading, but it is not unusual for a player to go through their career without being taught how to attack, time and connect with headers effectively, from an offensive or defensive standpoint. 

In this article, we look at different heading techniques and scenarios, and we have outlined a number of useful drills to improve this area of your game. Particularly for beginners, heading the ball seems like a completely alien and unnatural technique to use.

Manchester United's Vidic jumping for header (Heading A Soccer Ball)
It’s important to attack the ball, whether you’re attacking or defending | Image courtesy of Paul – Flickr.

The body’s instinctual reaction is more likely to cause you to duck out of the way of an aerial ball than to meet it with your head. However, once you reprogram yourself to embrace headers.

It can become a strangely enjoyable action. It’s key to have a change of mindset whereby you are attacking the ball, rather than letting the ball hit you. 

Heading a Soccer Ball Without it Hurting

Here are the basics techniques of any header:

  • Keep your eyes on the ball at all times
  • This helps ensure that you make a good connection, increases accuracy, and helps avoid an accidental head injury
  • It’s natural that the eyes may close at the point of contact
  • Keep your mouth shut to avoid clattering your teeth or biting your tongue

It can be difficult to keep your eyes on the ball for headers at first, so a good method to get used to this is to practice light contact headers. Gently throw the ball above your head, and header the ball, keeping your eyes on, until the moment of connection. Slowly build up power and distance

  • Plant your feet firmly
  • This gives the body balance and stability
  • Bend the knees, enabling the body to propel forward to meet the ball. Remember, the aim is to initiate contact, not just wait for contact
Ronaldo heading the ball toward goal (Heading A Soccer Ball)
Cristiano Ronaldo in one of the best offensive headers in the game, with perfect technique | Image courtesy of Wikipedia

How to Head a Soccer Ball: 13 Steps

  1. Make solid contact with the ball
  2. As you are in your prepped stance, with your knees bent, prepare yourself to attack the ball
  3. Spring forward, using your legs to drive you upward, and your arms to move the upper body
  4. Use your arms to power through the ball. Imagine that you are pulling your head through a picture frame
  5. Use your neck muscles to keep your head stable and to generate power and accuracy
  6. Connect with the ball using the center of your forehead
  7. This is a hard, flat surface, and allows you to watch the ball until the moment of contact
  8. Direct the ball to a certain area by pointing the forehead where you want it to go
  9. Avoid heading the ball with the top of your head. This can be painful and cause an injury
  10. Connect with the header at the highest point of your jump
  11. You may or may not need to jump to execute the header
  12. If you do need to jump, try timing it so that you make contact with the ball at the highest point of your jump, giving you maximum control, stability, and power
  13. Use your arms and legs to generate a strong and powerful jump

Cristiano Ronaldo is a fan of a 2 footed jump as it gives him a very strong and powerful position in the air. However, the majority of players prefer a 1 footed jump. It’s a matter of preference

Here are some great tips for winning headers. 

Basic Heading Drill for Beginners

Throw and Header – with a partner;

  • Stand 5 feet from the thrower, in your header-ready stance.
  • The thrower lobs the ball gently toward you at head-height. 
  • Attack the ball and header the ball firmly back to your partner.
  • Accuracy is the aim here so ensure that your headers are consistently reaching your partner. 
  • Over time, lengthen the distance between you and your partner, and increase the height of the throws. Eventually, you should be jumping to make the header.
  • If you don’t have a partner, you can use a wall to throw and head the ball against.

Defensive Headers 

The skill of heading is useful to any player but it is essential to be a good defender. Headers should be the bread and butter of any defender. In general, defensive headers don’t need to be very accurate but must prevent immediate danger and clear the ball adequately enough that a goal threat is stemmed.

We often see a cross dealt with by a defender with an initial header, only for the attacking team to regain possession and score on the next play. It’s not enough to deal with the first attack. T

The header must also take the ball out of the danger zone. Defensive headers come in various forms: from corners, crosses, duels with attackers, and long balls.

Feast your eyes on some of the greatest headers ever. Pay attention to the various techniques used.

Defensive Heading Drills

This can work for attacking and defensive purposes.

To begin with, the defenders and attackers should be separated and they should use different goalposts. The defenders take up their positions in the penalty box. Quite simply, Someone crosses the ball into the box, and the defenders head the ball away. 

Practice different types of crosses, set-pieces, heights, and power of strike for variation. The kicker should aim at different spots in the box to give the defense different looks to deal with. In a team scenario, communication is essential.

Any player taking responsibility for the header should shout to let their teammates know that they are attacking the ball. This prevents two teammates competing for the same ball. For example, if Tom is going up for a header, he would shout, “Tom’s / Tom’s ball / Tom’s up” etc.

Sergio Ramos is one of the highest goal-scoring players from set-pieces. Check out this video breaking down his approach to attacking corners and free-kicks for ideas on how to lose your defender and attack crosses.

High Ball Header Drills

One of the most common in-game heading scenarios is competing for a high dropping ball. As there is a lot of momentum on the ball already, generating power for this type of header isn’t important. The key is judging the flight of the ball and timing. This drill is very straight forward.

Steps:

  • Kick or throw the ball high in the air
  • Judge the flight of the ball, rise up and head it
  • The header doesn’t need to be very accurate but you should be aiming in a general direction
Ramos jumping over a player for a header  (Heading A Soccer Ball)
Sergio Ramos beating his man to the ball | Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Attacking Headers 

Offensive headers are the most difficult types of headers. To score one, you must beat the defender to the ball, direct the ball goalwards, and beat the ‘keeper. This takes supreme timing, strength, and technique.

Dominant headers of the ball, from an attacking standpoint, can be extremely valuable to a team. Take Cristiano Ronaldo for example: not only is he gifted in terms of his physique, technical ability, speed, and shooting, he is phenomenal in the air and scores a lot of headers.

There are some useful drills for practicing offensive headers. All players can develop themselves to be brave and technically proficient at attacking headers. However, it has to be noted that natural size and athleticism plays a huge part.

Attacking Header Drills

This is the attacking part of the drill mentioned in the defensive headers section. As mentioned, to begin with, the defenders and attackers should be separated and use different goalposts. 

  • Attackers take their positions in the penalty box
  • The set-piece taker crosses the ball in from various positions, aiming at different parts of the box, and varying the type of cross
  • The attackers make runs and attack the ball, attempting to score headers. 
  • Use various heading techniques including flick-ons, power headers, and diving headers
  • Depending on how many players are available, different amounts can be involved in this drill. The ideal number would begin at 2 players attacking crosses, rising to 6 or 7

Once the defensive and offensive contingents have practiced this drill separately, they should come together for an attack vs defense exercise. The drill takes place as normal, however, defenders and attackers are competing to win each cross. 

It’s important to treat this as practice, not as a live game. Be aware of your movements and surroundings and try not to cause an injury. This type of drill can be very useful and enjoyable but it shouldn’t be overdone as there is a risk of injury.

6-yard Box Header Drill

This drill is very simple but great for practicing heading technique safely. It can also double up as a fantastic reaction drill for a goalkeeper. If there is no GK available, make sure to concentrate on pin-point accuracy. At least 2 players are needed for this drill but it works for much larger numbers. 

  • GK stands on their goal-line
  • A thrower stands on the end-line to the side of the goal with a ball in their hand
  • The attackers line up on the edge of the penalty box
  • 1 at a time, they make a run to the 6-yard box, where the thrower tosses a head height ball toward them. The attacker tries to score a header
  • The thrower can vary the height and pace of the throw but it’s important that it’s accurate and matches the run of the attacker
  • An extension to this drill would be to line out 3 to 4 cones that the attacker has to run through before running for the 6-yard box. This simulates a real game situation where the attacker is trying to get free of their defender
  • Keep track of the scoring numbers and try to improve these over time

Final Heading Tips

Practice your heading technique as outlined in this article. Concentrate on the basics and the fundamentals to improve form. Use the drills to put these techniques into practice. As with all new things, be patient and stay disciplined.

You are sure to see massive improvements over time. Being a good header of the ball can make you a much better all-round player, and it can be a huge asset to your team both defensively and offensively.

Hopefully, this article can help you become a goal threat from set-pieces, or a dominant defensive anchor going forward. For more useful guides, see the articles below or visit our home page.

What advantage is heading the ball in soccer? Heading the ball is a specialized skill. If a tall, athletic, and powerful athlete is a good header of the ball, they have a huge advantage over any competing player. They may use this to their advantage from set-piece or crossing scenarios, where they are the target of all crosses. This can lead to easy goals, or it can be a distraction or worry to the opposition.

Who is the best player at scoring headers? Statistically, heading records have not been around long enough to give a conclusive answer. However, in the modern game, Cristiano Ronaldo is undoubtedly one of the greatest. He has scored over 100 career headers. Just watch this!

What is a “perfect hat-trick”? This is where a player scores 3 goals in the following manner:

  • 1 x left-footed
  • 1 x right-footed
  • 1 header
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