It's been a little while since heading was withdrawn from the youngest ages of US soccer and each Fall players will be reintroduced to this aspect of the game. This season will see players that have known both worlds; with and without heading pre-U12, reintroduced to heading. But at some point in the near future, we'll be teaching heading to players that (should) have never made contact with a ball in this manner before.
As a result, an added emphasis on safety and proper technique will be vital for teaching players how to head the ball and learn this side of the game. Below are some of the challenges coaches will face as well as a few solutions and activities that you might use in order to construct a session or just add elements of heading back into session's.
Limitations (To Begin With)
From U12-U14, heading is reintroduced, though in a limited fashion. Practicing heading is restricted to 30 minutes per week and no more than 15-20 headers per player, per week. This mean's that an entire session of heading is out of the window. This makes the task of reintroducing heading all the more challenging as that is a low number of repetitions in order to master a technique. Therefore, building heading into sessions as a secondary learning outcome to whatever you're working on might be the way forwards.
Teaching the Technique of Heading
If we now encounter a generation of players that get to U12 without ever having headed the ball, it's important that we're thorough with explaining the different techniques of heading as players have likely already developed an ability to play lofted passes, driven balls and crossing techniques (or at least started to). With that said, here are some key points you might touch upon when teaching heading:
- Eyes open - watch the flight of the ball all the way onto your head
- Mouth shut - you're not trying to eat the ball and it's best your teeth don't clack whilst heading!
- Use your forehead - it's the strongest point of your skull and the key element to heading
- Heading is all about your neck muscles - use them to enter your head towards the ball
- Your arms can be used for balance or feelers for oncoming players
- Footwork and approach to the ball
- Attacking v. Defensive heading (where you make contact on the ball makes a difference)
- Cushioned headers for control or passes
Below are four activities you might use as activators, warm ups or conditioned games in order to integrate heading into your session without speeding past that 30 minute restriction and the number of repetitions mandated by US Soccer.
While the onus is on the legislation to keep kids safe and reduce heading at the youngest age groups, this will then switch to use as coaches when heading is reintroduced. Taking the time to plan for and educate our players with the correct technique will allow them to catch up quickly in terms of mastery as well as ensure that they are taught a safe and correct technique.