Youth soccer players really struggle with the ball coming at their head or chest. This requires good teaching and repetition to overcome the fear. Proper form matters as well as training methods. If players learn in ways that give them confidence they will improve faster. Using the right methods and form are a must. Having your arms out wide to head or chest is important because it gives you protection and balance. When players are performing these skills they don’t realize how their form is, which is why feedback is vital.
Lack of quality instruction
There are many websites that discuss the ‘how to’ of proper positioning how to head or chest.
Over & over I read the same instruction.
You’ll see the same techniques modeled and they may be right in theory or in writing, but the accompanying videos of demonstration are wrong!
However, in this post – 3 tips on chest traps in soccer, you’ll learn both the ‘how’ & ‘why’ of the techniques.
The first rule of heading
The first rule of heading is knowing what part(s) of the head to use. It all depends on where you’re passing or shooting…
3 parts of the head to use:
- Most of the time use the spot where the hair starts to grow above the forehead.
- Sometimes you can use the middle of your forehead.
- Then when you need to flick the ball on – use the top of the head, which is the only time.
Aggression requires you to go after the ball, not shrink from it, therefore helping prevent injury to yourself on the attack and the return to ground.
This one rule requires that you know how to turn your body, position your arms, & properly ‘receive’ the ball away from other players.
The importance of physical fitness & a good vertical really benefit a player.
I demonstrate this teaching 20 tips for heading the soccer ball.
While practicing the techniques, I see some students (when trying to chest) will get hit in neck & when working on heading, people get hit in nose.
These are common points of connection and error & is why practicing both techniques, at any level, should be done in a small space.
For ages [U11-U12] try to use a softer ball [not aired up a lot] so players have more confidence and can focus on accuracy of point of connections.
Why we practice headers
We practice these techniques so we’ll be able to make accurate split-second decisions and determine which is best.
Do we head or chest? The answer is not straightforward, as it depends on what part of field you’re in.
Also what situation you find yourself in, especially for set pieces, & the age of the player.
- For example, if you’re in penalty area you’re most likely to use your head, whether attacking or defending.
- The same is true with defending. You want to be good with your head because balls are often crossed in. Heading can get your team out of danger. You can head the ball back where it came from or you can redirect it.
- You’ll even see sometimes the defender will head ball over their own goal. While this will give the other team a corner kick it is sometimes safer than heading the ball back down the middle of your own 18 where the other team can strike a ball on goal.
- The best place to head a ball out or clear a ball out is with the outside of the field because you’re not putting your team in danger where the other team can score right away.
- You want to chest the ball in time especially when you have the time to settle a ball down and pass the ball away as compared to heading, where the ball goes farther away and more out of control, causing a turnover.
Training tip for balls in the air
Practice heading without jumping:
- First start off with a partner close together [3 yards apart]
- One player tosses underhand while the other heads the ball back to the tosser.
- Focus on the connection point of the head. You head the ball don’t let it head you…
- Your arms should be away from your body. Hand/wrist are wider than elbows because you want to protect yourself without hurting your opponent.
- After a set of not jumping – do a set where you jump while heading. Connect at your highest point – don’t worry about power yet.
Jumping for headers:
2 ways to work on jumping for headers.
- Without a defender – jump and try to head the ball while you’re at your highest point. This way when you go up against another player you can be first to the ball.
- Using a person – jumping for headers with a player in front of you… Example: Defender or CM during a goal kick… The video/drill below gives you confidence to go up with a player in your area.
Differences from pro vs youth soccer
In pro soccer you head the ball more simply due to the advantage of a vertical. As this is the only way (head or chest) you can pass the ball back to the goalie it’s great then for defenders.
Heading the ball back to your own GK gives your team more possession and options for starting a new attack (& it’s great for attackers as well). Rules state you can’t pass back to your own GK for them to use their hand, but if you head or chest the ball to them they can.
For youth players, as we spoke about the last post, I highly recommend these players get skilled at chest traps.
Being good at using the chest helps with unnecessary risk by the frequency & dangers of heading the ball.
Youths have incomplete physical development to protect them from injury, compared to college and pros.
So which is best – head or chest?
Youth players under 11 years old obviously chest because of the rules… Plus, the brain, skull & neck are stronger as adults.
For HS, college & professional athletes it all depends on the situation and they should be good at both.
As I stated in the last post, 3 tips on the chest trap, when you’re at these advanced levels, the game is more about winning. All ages should be about continued learning & avoiding injuries, but to do this kids must be taught properly.
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