In the game of soccer, players are not allowed to use their arms at all. This means ball control must happen with the feet, legs, chest, and head. Yet there is a very clear and present risk of a soccer ball causing brain damage or other head injuries when it isn’t done properly.
Even the routine heading of a soccer ball during practice can be enough to cause changes within the brain.
Because there will be times when heading the ball is necessary in the beautiful game, it is necessary to teach youth players at an early age the fundamentals of heading. Coaches and parents should also teach youth players that heading the ball is a last resort instead of the first reaction to a ball in flight.
If you follow these five steps, you can properly perform a header and reduce the risk of a concussion or another type of injury.
#1. Watch the ball in flight. The first and biggest mistake that most players make when getting ready for a header is that they take their eye off the ball. You must keep your eye on the ball while it is in flight so you can judge its trajectory with accuracy. This way you can position yourself to make an advancing play without risking your health.
#2. Communicate with your team. Injuries also happen when multiple players from the same team attempt to head the ball. Many headers are going to be 50/50 battles with an opposing player, but it shouldn’t be a 25/25/25/25 because another player from your team joins you against two players on the opposing team to get the same header. Communicate openly about who is going to get the ball. Coaches should consider having assigned players take a header when it comes into a specific zone as well.
#3. Know the sweet spot. The thickest part of the skull is the forehead. Concussion and injury risk is greatly reduced when you can smack a soccer ball with the middle of your forehead. You’ll also receive more power from a header when you hit the soccer ball with that part of your head. The sweet spot is the center of your forehead right at the hair line. In comparison, you do not want to head the ball with the side or the back of your head.
#4. Don’t close your eyes. Heading a ball that has been in the air for a long time doesn’t feel very good. Many players tend to close their eyes in anticipation of the impact. The problem with this habit is that it causes the player to take their eye off of the flight of the ball. You need to keep eye contact until the impact to make sure the ball strikes the correct portion of the head.
#5. Push through the ball. Don’t allow the ball to land on your head. You are going to want to push your head through the ball as it makes contact. This is what will allow you to advance the play.
Knowing how to properly perform a header with a soccer ball will help prevent player injuries while keeping a play alive. Restrict routine headers during practice and teach these fundamentals for the best results.