How to make heading less scary

Timidity can be defined as ‘easily frightened or lacking self-confidence’.

But while timid football players may lack self-confidence, they aren’t lacking in bravery. Indeed, timid players can also be the bravest – it needs real courage to go out on to the pitch when you’re frightened of getting hurt or letting yourself or your team mates down.

As a youth soccer coach you may not be able to turn a mouse into a tiger, but you do have it within your power to give a timid player confidence in their own abilities. And remember that the benefits of having a team full of self-confident players are not confined to improving your win:loss ratio.

A self-confident child who has enjoyed success on the soccer pitch will be more likely to succeed academically, and will have better relations with their peers and adults.

All you have to do is recognise that there are one key technique that, when mastered, will turn the most timid of children into a strong, confident player.

Heading the ball

How to remove the fear. Despite the fact that some football authorities recommend young children do not head the ball at all, I believe they are never too young to teach the right technique.

Step 1: Even children as young as four or five will enjoy keeping a balloon in the air with their head, and that’s a great starting point.

Make sure you teach the ‘mouth closed, eyes open’ technique from the start and encourage your players to jump up to meet the balloon on its way down.

You can also make it a fun team game. Have four or five children in each team and see which one can keep the balloon in the air the longest.

Step 2: When your players are a little older they can begin to head the ball with a small, soft ball or an indoor football. If they have been playing with a balloon for a while, they shouldn’t fear ball against head contact, but it’s still a good idea to take things slowly.

Have your players hold the ball in their hands and move their forehead to the ball (you want to ingrain the habit of meeting the ball with the head, not waiting for the ball to hit the head). Then ask them to throw the ball a couple of feet in the air and head it back into their hands.

Step 3: Now you need to introduce a purpose for heading the ball. Split your players into groups of three or four. Put three flat cones in front of each team and balance a ball on each cone.

One member from each team stands on one side of the cones about three feet away from them. His team mates stand about three feet away on the other side of the cones.

The single player tosses a ball to his team mates who attempt, in turn, to knock the balls off the cones in front of them with a header. The first team to knock the balls off the cones wins.

Step 4: The next step is to introduce movement. Put your players into groups of three and ask them to throw/head/catch the ball as they make their way up a football pitch. The first team to head their ball into the goal wins. If the ball is dropped they have to start again.

Step 5: Now combine heading with healthy aggression. Play a small-sided game (SSG) where every time the ball goes out of play you restart by throwing the ball in the air and awarding a point to the team whose player heads it first.

Don’t allow players to push each other to reach the ball. You’re looking for decisive jumping and a desire to get to the ball first. If the ball hits the ground before anyone heads it, throw it up again.

Playing simple heading games like these from an early age will stop your players having a fear of heading the ball from taking hold.

But if your players are not used to heading and are reluctant to begin, return to step 1 and gradually work through the sequence, only moving on when your players are confident and showing no fear.