How to Perform Defensive Heading in Soccer

Young man jumping to hit a soccer ball with his head.


In soccer, the position where a player is most commonly required to make a defensive header is center-back. However, even a striker may be called upon to make a defensive header. This will happen if he or she is defending a corner of the field, for instance. It is important that whatever position you play in, the art of defensive heading is mastered.

Very young players (and some older ones) can be reluctant to head the ball for fear of getting hurt. They will often close their eyes and let it land on their head, rather than attacking the ball.

It's helpful, if you are teaching a youngster or a fearful player how to head, to practice with a softball at first.

Most defensive headers are performed with the aid of a jump, but if unopposed, they can be made from a standing position.

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The Run Up

When making a defensive header in soccer, you will either be going up to head the ball on your own, or you may be up against one or more opponents.

When the ball is in the air and coming in your direction, move into the line of the ball. Position yourself close to where you think the ball is going to end up so you are right on the ball.

You need to perform a run-up to the ball in order to get in line and also apply power to the header.

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Take Off

Having got a good run-up, you need to jump as the ball approaches, using your arms for elevation.

Ideally, you want one foot in front and one foot back to keep your balance.

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Use Your Arms

When in mid-flight, you need to have your arms up for balance and to protect yourself as you jump. Hold your arms up to try and pull yourself forward to create power on the ball.

Players must be careful if they are going up for a header with an opponent because flailing arms can lead to a foul being conceded if the referee deems that you have made sufficient contact with an opponent to blow the whistle.

When you are defending, you usually want to head the ball as high up in the air and as far away as possible. Leap up, body arched and back ready to give power to the neck.

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Making Contact

You need to concentrate on the ball and making contact with your forehead on the middle of the front part. Head the ball above the eye line and below the hairline.

The better the contact, the farther and more forcefully it will travel. Power your neck forward to allow the forehead to strike the ball.

Make contact with the ball at the highest point of the jump to get the most height and distance.

It is important not to make contact with the ball using the top of your head, as this could hurt.

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Try to get good distance on the ball.

After making contact with the ball, you must try to land on both feet to avoid falling awkwardly.