How to score headers

by Pablo M19th Feb 2020

Scoring headers is all about timing and technique. Even small players can score headers. They can leap as high as their markers and connect with the ball by using the right technique. In this post, we share a few tips that will increase your chances of scoring headers.

Headers are not that complicated, but you need to put the time to practice them. You only need to remember these 5 basic tips:

  1. Keep eyes open
  2. Hit the ball with your forehead
  3. Hit the ball in the centre
  4. Use your whole body to generate power
  5. Follow through with the header

You can focus on more advanced techniques once you master these five basic steps. Let’s have a look at why you should know these basic tips.

Keep your eyes open

It is a natural reaction to close your eyes when an object is flying to your face. So, you need to practice keeping your eyes open. If you keep your eyes open, you have a better chance of heading with a clean connection. And the ball will go in the direction you want.

Keep your eyes open to assess the flight of the ball. If you want to meet the ball at the right time, your judgement when attacking the ball is crucial. Many situations can change the trajectory of the ball: a gust of wind, a bad cross, a defender deflecting the ball, a goalkeeper touching the ball with the tip of their gloves and more. Yer, you can still head the ball if you remain on your toes with your eyes open and adjust your body.

Head the ball with your forehead

Some situations need you to head the ball with your temple or the top of the head. For example, you hit the ball with the top of your head if you want to deflect the ball or flick it over a defender towards a teammate. Yet, when you want to put power into your header, the best part of the head to hit the ball is your forehead.

The forehead is the widest and flattest surface area in your head. It gives you a cleaner connection on the ball which is going to generate more power and accuracy. If you use the temple, you won’t generate the power or accuracy required, and it will hurt.

Yet, you can hit the ball with your forehead, but if you don’t have the right timing, you won’t generate any power. For instance, if you head the ball while backpedalling, the ball will bounce from your head with very little power. In short, professional players wait until the last moment and drive through the ball with the front part of their head.

Head the ball in the centre

You have to get level with the flight of the ball. The angle you connect with the ball will determine the direction of the ball. If the ball is too low and you get over it, it is going to go straight into the ground. If you jump too short and you get underneath, the ball is going to go straight up into the air. Hitting through the centre of the ball, you will get the ball moving at speed in a straight line towards the goal.

In some scenarios, you want to hit the ball from the top. If you’re in close range you want to hit the ball low, to the ground. In this case, you need to hit the ball from the top. It is more difficult for goalkeepers to save if they have to react to the ball and get low to the ground. So, when you’re close to the goalkeeper box, head it into the ground. Still, when you are learning and in most scenarios, your safest bet is connecting your forehead with the centre of the ball.

Use your whole body to generate power

Body strength and flexibility are also important. You need the power to get off the ground, hold off your marker and hit the ball. Power doesn’t come only from your neck muscles. It comes from all your body, starting from your legs and glutes, then your back, and finally your neck.

To reach maximum height, jump with one leg using your arms to drive your body higher. As we mentioned before, keep your eyes open as long as possible. As you lift, bend your back backwards so that you can extend it forwards. It is like a shooting technique, you first flex your leg backwards and then swing it through. That’s where the power comes from. That’s going to give the momentum and generate power through the ball.

The use of your arms is important. When you jump, you extend your arms to lift you in the air. As you are driving your head forwards to hit the ball, drive your arms towards you for extra momentum. Be mindful of your markers and arms position to avoid any contact that may be considered unlawful by the referee.

Once you hit the ball you want to drive through as you do when you kick the ball. As you can see, all your body is involved in a header.

Follow through with the header

Follow through your header just like a shooting technique. You want to follow through to give the header more accuracy. After you’ve made contact, move your head in the direction you want the ball to go. If you move your head in the direction you want the ball to go, it is more likely that it will travel in that direction. If you do this, and you know where the goalkeeper is, you can put the ball in the area of the goal most difficult for the goalie to save.

As discussed, keeping your eyes open is important. Knowing the position of the goalkeeper is key. It allows you to choose where you are going to direct the ball. In general, goalies move in line with the ball. So, by heading back in the opposite direction, you are using the goalkeeper momentum against them. For example, if the ball is crossed from the right-hand side, head it back into the right-hand side of the goal.

Michael Lewis Cunningham demonstrates how to score headers

Simple drills to practice headers

Knowing these techniques is not enough. The only way to master these skills is to make sure that you practice them. These simple drills will help you improve your heading technique:

  • Grab the ball with your hands in front of your head and head it. The same movement as if you were headbutting someone. Focus on hitting the ball in the centre with your forehead and arching your body and neck to release more power. Practice until you get the most power in the header.
  • Throw the ball up and jump to head it. In this simple exercise, you are working on your jump. Try to head the ball as high as you can.
  • Get a partner to through you a ball high in the air with his hands and hit the ball back to his feet. This simple exercise targets many aspects at once: jumping, body position, timing, where you hit the ball, direction, etc. If you don’t have a partner use a wall.
  • Training solo: use a wall or a pendulum. You can create a pendulum with a net, a ball and a piece of rope (or you can buy this product). Put the ball in the net and hung it from a tree using a rope. Then head the ball back and forth. It’s not as easy as it seems. You have to keep your eyes on the ball.
You can buy the kit in the video from Amazon.

Now that you know the basics on how to score headers, have a look at the video below to see the techniques discussed used at the professional level.