Teaching Heading to Youth Soccer Players

In soccer, there are only two ways to play the game: use your feet and legs to skillfully maneuver the ball down the field, or control passes and shooting with your head. Although some may believe that using your head is a controversial way to play a sport, heading is a very common and widely used technique in soccer. However, it can be a skill that is relatively difficult to teach to youth players. If not taught and executed correctly, heading can prove to be damaging to the brain. That’s why it is imperative that coaches are correctly teaching young players the right ways to head the ball. The Orlando Pride Soccer enthusiasts at QueensCast encourage specific and proper guidelines to follow when teaching heading to youth soccer players.

There are two main skills to focus on when a younger player begins to practice heading the ball:

1. Maintain safe and accurate contact with the ball.

Improper heading can lead to serious brain injury or damage, like a concussion, without the player even realizing. To ensure the ball does not hit vulnerable areas of the brain, it is vital that young players only use their foreheads to head a soccer ball, as this area is protected by the thickest portion of the skull. It also allows for the most control and accuracy when the ball hits the forehead during a heading maneuver. Another key aspect to heading is to always keep constant eye contact with the ball in order to position the ball correctly during heading to ensure correctness. The major power of the movement should come from the players’ legs and back to powerfully push themselves forward to make contact with the ball on their forehead. Make sure that the player knows to keep their mouths closed during a heading play, so as not to bite their tongue during it or risk an accidental tooth knockout if the ball makes unfortunate contact with the mouth.

2. Go after the ball with impulsion.

The second aspect of heading, once the safety measures of contact are clear to the player, is the actual technique of using your head to hit the ball. Putting together a powerful header requires lots of anticipation and coordination from the player. The player must run and then jump to meet the ball with maximum power in order to strike it correctly. Letting the ball make contact with the forehead is not enough; the player must also follow through with their head and neck in order to propel the ball to the place of their choosing. Take it from Abby Wambach!

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Ways to Practice

Heading can be a complicated skill to teach and acquire, but there are certain moves that can be practiced to master heading. Juggling the ball using the player’s head can be a simple way to practice maintaining control and accuracy. Players can also take turns passing the ball to one another in small groups where one player heads it to another who catches it and then repeats this process to another player.

Guidelines to Keep in Mind

US Club Soccer has put a variety of guidelines in place to help protect youth players from potentially injuring themselves.

  • Within programs U-11 and younger, youth players should not engage in heading at all.
  • In U-12 and U-13, players can engage in limited heading. US Club Soccer dicates that no more than 30 minutes per week should be spent on heading practice.

Using the correct methods, teaching heading to youth athletes is an important aspect of the game of soccer. Heading in the right ways will allow for successful results and confident young soccer players. Practice these skills with your young players, and keep in mind the importance of using the forehead to head a ball. Keep checking QueensCast for more soccer tips and information on Orlando Pride!