Many people don't realize how important headers are in the soccer game. But the truth is, that lots of passes, crosses and goal kicks fly up into the air and are to be headed. Heading is a skill that is harder to learn than you might think, but it's also the one of the most valuable ones to learn. Heading doesn't involve just striking the ball with the right part of the body, no, you'll also have to win duels with defenders, jump high, get enough power, and give it the right direction.
Before I move on, I must say that heading is very dangerous when done wildly and incorrectly!
Heading doesn't mean just putting your head against a ball, no, there's a lot of technique involved:
- First, you'll notice the ball is coming at you, and you'll estimate when it will be at the right level for you to head it. You move to that spot (if you've never done this before, getting a ball in the face is not unheard of - it's important to get this part about positioning right). Depending on how high the ball is, and whether or not there are defenders near you, you may decide to do a jumping header, for which you have to position yourself a little closer to the ball.
- Now, load your weapons! Just as with shooting, you have to swing or pull something back, in order to get power once released. So, keep your neck and head straight, and move your upper body backwards.
- Once you think it's the right time to head the ball (you need to keep your eyes open and fixed on the ball, otherwise you'll probably be too early), you move your upper body forward (and your head with it of course), and hit the ball with your forehead.
- And now, if you want to give the ball some direction, you need to rotate your neck towards your target (rotating your body doesn't necessarily help), while the ball is still touching your head.
- Now you should have performed a nice and clean header!
- You'll need to keep in mind that any ball that hits your forehead will move upwards, so keep/move your head a bit down if you want the ball to go low, which is mostly useful for scoring (very often, headers from corners go over the crossbar because of the lack of proper technique).
Now you know how to perform a header, but what if there's people around you that also want the ball for themselves? Use these tips:
- Get your arms out - make yourself big and stand on the ground firmly. Make sure that your opponent can't get in front of you, but also can't push (or pull) you in any direction.
- In the case of a goal kick (or another slow but very high ball) you want to stand behind your opponent. This is because these balls are quite impossible to control, so standing behind the other player either makes the ball fly back a lot towards the opposition's side of the pitch, or it simply flies into your territory and possession.
- In any other case though, you want to either be in front of your opponent, or you want to jump higher/above him.
- When close to the opponent's goal, there will be defenders pushing and pulling you. You need to either shake them off of you by running around a lot, or be strong enough to get them off your back. Then, once the ball comes, use the technique I described earlier to score.
- When defending in front of your own goal, you want to head the ball high and away (and of course, now you're the one pushing the other players). Preferably, you want to head the ball towards the sides, because if you deflect it to somewhere in front of goal, there's a chance an opponent picks it up and shoots the ball into the net.
- However, keep in mind: it's never allowed to put elbows/arms into other player's faces, or to lean or jump onto them in any way. Although, it depends a lot on the type of arbiter and how intense the game is.