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How to score headers

Scoring headers is all about timing and technique. Even small players can score headers. They can leap just 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 center
  4. Use your whole body to generate power
  5. Follow through with the header

Once you master these five basic steps, then you can focus in more advanced techniques such as diving headers, changing direction of the ball according with the position of the goalkeeper, etc. 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. Therefore, you need to practice keeping your eyes open. If you keep your eyes open, you have a better chance of winning the header with a clean connection and the ball going in the direction you want.

Keep your eyes open to assess the flight of the ball. Your judgement when attacking is crucial if you want to meet the ball at the right time. A gust of wind, a bad cross, a defender deflecting the ball or a goalkeeper touching the ball with the tip of their gloves are just some of many situations that may change the trajectory of the ball. If you remain on your toes with your eyes open, you can adjust your body to still meet the ball with your head.

Head the ball with your forehead

There are situations that require 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 flick it over a defender towards a teammate or just want to simply deflect the ball. However, when you want to put power to 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.

Timing is also important. Professional players wait until the last second and drive through the ball with the front part of their head. You can hit it with your forehead, but if you don’t have the right timing, you’re not going to get any power. For example, if instead of connecting when you are running towards the ball, you are backpedalling, the ball will bounce from your head with very little power.

Head the ball in the center

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, the ball 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 center 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 both react to the ball and get low to the ground. So, when you’re close to the goalkeeper box, head it into the ground. Nevertheless, when you are learning and in most scenarios, your safest bet is connecting your forehead with the center of the ball.

Use your whole body to generate power

Body strength and flexibility are also important. You need 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 extremely important. When you jump, you extend your arms to lift you up 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 the ball is going to travel in that direction. If you do this, and you know at all times 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 extremely important. Knowing the position of the goalkeeper is key. It allows you to choose where you are going to the direct the ball. For example, if the ball is crossed from the right hand side, head it back into the right hand side of the goal. Typically goalies move in line with the ball, so by heading back in the opposite direction, you are using the goalkeeper momentum against them.

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 making sure that you practice so when you find yourself in a match situation the skills learned become second nature. 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 center with your forehead and arching your body and neck to release more power. Practice until you get maximum 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. Now you are focusing in all the techniques at once: your jump, using your body, timing, where you hit the ball, giving direction to the ball, 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 easy – when the ball gets right in front of your face, you have to make contact at exactly the right moment to give it maximum direction and power. 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 professional level.

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