Before getting into anything involving the technique of heading the ball, it's worth reading these articles. In the last few years, there has been a lot of evidence put forward to suggest that repeatedly heading the ball can cause serious long term health problems and short term memory issues and reduction in cognitive function.

In the United States, children aged 10 and under are completely banned from heading the ball, whilst children aged 11-13 have headers limited in training.

All things very much worth considering - and if you watch the majority of mini soccer matches, the number of times a player finds themselves in a heading situation is minimal, so spending hours and hours practising heading at this age probably isn't the best use of your limited training time.

But - if your players are going to head the ball, it's worth them knowing how to do it safely and with the correct technique.

Heading - Coaching Points

As always, don't try and cover all these points in one session. The basics should always be taught before trying to introduce any more complex or advanced concepts. Having your players understand the key points for heading a ball safely is the most important thing.

  • Feet wide in a "boxer" stance.
  • Contact with the ball should be made with the forehead area. Top of the head occasionally used for flicking on throws or low-trajectory balls from corners etc. where contact is not "face on".
  • Body position - as the ball is travelling, get into position so you can make a good contact with the ball, with your body shape dependent on where you want the header to go.
  • Watch the ball approach (but close eyes for actual contact), keep mouth closed to avoid injury.
  • Attack the ball to give the header power - don't just wait for the ball to hit your head or you risk injury. Use the hips and back to add that power. Keep the neck firm.

Once your players have mastered simply heading a ball with some power and direction, you may then want to consider further points to make them more effective in game situations with their heads...

  • Is this a defensive header (send the ball away from danger into wide areas) or an attacking header (to score, or to pass to a team mate) - different priorities in different situations.
  • If trying to score from a cross, as a general rule, head down into the ground as harder for the keeper to save.
  • Arms up to help protect from opponents, keep balance and move the head forward.
  • Timing of run and jump to make contact with the ball at just the right moment (difficult skill).
  • Heading the bottom of the ball will send the header up, heading the top of the ball will send the header down.
  • Angle of head for direction of header.
  • Is a header the right choice for the situation - could the player take a step back and receive the ball on their thigh or foot instead? A header isn't a great way of cushioning the ball or keeping possession if under no pressure, so get the players thinking about this.

There are plenty of videos on YouTube with demonstrations of how to head a football - a simple search for "how to head a football" brought some good ones up. Watching them will help you understand the above coaching points in more detail.

Heading - Introducing Into Training Games (Game Realism)

Practicing heading to get a sound basic technique is great, but you'll then want to get your players coping with heading the ball in more realistic, game situations.

Starting by introducing opposition pressure when heading the ball into your training exercises will get the players dealing with that.

If you've run a session on heading, then finishing with a match where a goal scored from a header is worth double or a defensive clearance with a header earns you a point is a way of focusing the players' minds (and heads!) on heading the ball. At a more advanced level, you can get into giving points for specific types of header (flicked on from a cross or corner, down into the ground across the goalkeeper etc...)