Sport4Kids - 15 Tips for Coaching Safe Heading for Kids Football
Heading the ball correctly is important for both fun and enjoyment but also for the safety of children and players as they develop. Safety is the key element and helping children to learn the proper way is crucial. Developing the right muscles and strength in their bodies and to get them to react well and prepare to head a ball is a key part of safe heading. The key to the prevention of concussion in heading starts with teaching our kids the right way to head the ball when they are young. Here are some tips that all parents and wannabe coaches should read for helping our kids get the right start - teaching kids football the right way.
1. Balloons & Head Tennis. Start them young with the concept of heading. In the safety of your own home get your children to play head tennis with a balloon. Starting with hitting the balloon in the air with their hands and then with their heads. Starting with their hands gets them to look up and build awareness and early neck ball muscle tone. Then get them to head the ball concentrating on heading with their forehead, not the top or the back of their heads. This is the start of the kids cognitive and balance skills which are key to safe heading of a football.
They can have lots of fun with this. Balloon tennis helps them build space awareness, positioning their bodies and looking up at the balloon. It will help build early muscle strength looking up and moving their heads to the balloon without much impact or fear of getting the ball on the nose! Building muscle memory and neck strength is a great foundation for their confidence with real balls later.
2. Not Too Young. There is no need for children to start heading a a “proper” football until they are 6 years old and proper sized footballs not till they are much much older. This could be into their teens and depends on the development of the child and the neck and body strength.
3. Start Light. We recommend a gradual increase in the weight of the ball being headed. Starting from balloons when they are younger move the size and weight up slowly. Moving on from a balloon onto very light plastic balls and then move onto smaller size leather balls. We suggest an official size 3 soccer ball to begin with. The size 3 has a narrower sweat spot and is lighter. It also has a smaller circumference and less chance of hitting their nose when they aim with their forehead. These things are important when our kids first start off their football journey :-)
4. Stationary Excercises. As with all skills start slowly and get them to be able to control the technique without too much movement. Teach them to head a ball from a standing start. Do not encourage heading in open play or in excersises that require movement or where the ball has a distance to travel before the child has to head it. Get them to place the ball on their forehead and get them to do little headers back into their arms.
5. Short Distance. Stand two metres away and provide little heading oppportnties for your child to understand where they must be heading the ball but also for them to get the feel of it on the correct part of their head. Hopefully your mini throws will be consistnet for them not to move and cocnetrate on heading with the forehead. Do not throw the ball into the air for them to get disorientated. Make this part very easy. A light Size 3 and little headers ack into your hand.
6. Clear Instructions. Give your child clear instructions on how to head the ball. Stand one metre in front and then put the ball on their forehead and explain that this is the only part of their heads they should be heading. Verbalk and physical demonstration. Show them on your own head, and where not to hit it on your own head. Place the ball on the back or side oy your head and pretnt to be dizzy. Place the ball on the size of your head and do some wobbly legs. Place it on your nose and pretend you are crying or shout a loud “ouch”. Explain that if they head with the back of their head, not your, that they will get dizzy and hurt themselves. Heading with the front of their heads is the only way they should do it. Place the ball on different parts of their head and ask them to act with wobbly legs, and a big “Ouch” on the nose.
7. No Crossing & Heading. We do not want the ball travelling too far a distance before our little ones try the difficult skills of heading the ball with the front of their heads. There is too much movement and too many things to get right in such highly dynamic situations. When teaching children the correct ways to head a ball you have to reducee the number of things that can go wrong.
We do not teach hoof ball, nor do we expect our youngsters to learn heading techiques from crossing and heading routines. Do not encourage heading drills where they have traditional crosses or launching the ball in the air for them to head it, is not advised.
In the early years we concentrate on the childs feel for heading the ball, ball awareness and body readiness is all important. This should be done in non game and non competitive situations.Get the basics first and then move on to more dynamic and unpredicatable situations. Once they have mastered the basic skills, kids the can then build up the necessary motor skills gradually to cope with more dynamic situations.
8. Closing their Mouths. We teach our kids to close their mouths when heading a ball. This is a must as it helps build tension in the neck and head muscles but also most importantly prepares them for later when in competitive situations they may be barged, pushed or nudged. The odd elbow here and there can cause pain if you have a dangling jaw hanging out.
9. Eyes Open. We also teach our kids to keep their eyes open. This helps them to cocnetrate on the moving ball and to be aware of the change in movement of the ball as it comes towards them. Avoiding the bump on the nose is good as well as making sure we head it with our forehead.
Keep eyes open helps players build their preipheral viiosn and have spacial awareness of things around them. This can include fellow players jumping for the ball, the goalposts, the goalkeeper and also the movement of players that you may want to head towards or away from. Making sure your header goes out of play for a defensive corner or a throw in is also of consideration later. You can only do this with your eyes open.
10. Preparation. In dynamic situations both in competitive games and even practice situations the reality is that the ball comse at all sorts of angles and speeds. Good prepration is essential to get in a good position to head the ball. To be able to execute technically a good header and to prepare the body for the impact it is crucial that our children approach the ball in the right way.
We begin to teach them preparation from a standing start. Teach them to hold their shoulders back get their head ready by taking it back and hold their arms out to balance themselves. They should also be positioning their feet to give them forward momentum. Start with standing still and teaching them to hold their shoulders back and arms out. This helps to stabilize before the move their body and their heads towards the ball. All of this helps with a feel for the ball, their own movement and build cognitive skills and muscle strength. The more practice they get the stronger they become. They aslo build muscle memory required to perform safe heading of the ball when they are in more dynamic heading situations.
11. Heading Through the Ball. Key to successful heading and protecting the player is heading through the ball on impact. We should not teach our children to let the ball hit them but we teach them to head through the ball on impact with eyes open and mouths closed. This teaches them to be positive and control the situation and not let the ball control them. Thats when little accidetns, miss- timed headers and the odd banged nose.
As the ball comes towards their forehead teach the children to push through the ball on contact. This builds upon good preparation where the player watches the trajectory of the ball, getting good body shape feet and forward momentum before the ball arrives. Coaching them to head through the ball starts with the standing still heading excercise. Get them to hold their bodies back and then head through the ball back into your hands. Ask them to increase the power they head the ball. Even play a game where they have to head it back to knock you over or you pretend they have knocked you over. Use your imagination to ahve fun with this.
12. Increase the Distance Slowly. Increase the standing distance slowly. Key here is to make sure the technique remains consistent with good preparation, closed mouth, eyes open and moving their body towards the ball and heading through on impact into your arms. Accuracy in their technique at this stage builds confidence and a foundation for safe and accurate heading. You as the coach and parent should control as many aspects as possible so that the child can concentrate on learning the right way to head a football.
13. Jumping & Heading Up. Again this should begin with a standing exercise. First of all from two metres throw the ball into the air only a metre then a couple of meteres above the player. Then get them to use their forehead to head it back to you in a loop. Next throw it up a little higher and ask them to jump up to the ball. As the competence increases move further back a metre at a time and throw the ball a little higher. Keep sharing the basic techniques of preparation, mouth, eyes, forehead, and push through, but also encourage them to get on their toes so they can adjust to the trajectory of the ball. Getting their legs moving to get them in the right position to head the ball.
14. Low & High. Next stage is to alternate between throwing the ball above the player for heading and them in front of them to head the ball back into to your arms. This begins to get them to understand the different trajectories of the ball. Remember this is all with a relatively static one on one exercise. Very controled and safe.
15. Head Tennis. Fun time! This is where you and your child can have great fun. Once they have mastered the technique from a standing start they will need more practice to hone the motor skills and build up the muscle strength and muscle memory. What greater fun then head tennis. See if you can get to 3 headers, then 5 and then 10. Keeping track of your scores and records is a great confidence and techniques builder. Play dates and playing with fellow club or team members is an extension of the practice and strength building.
Once the basic techniques are in place then you can move onto more dynamic training, practice and game situations with increased confidence and safety. All this preparation is so that our children do not get surprised with a fast moving ball and we can maximise the safety of kids football.
Most early heading situations happen when we mess around in the back garden so watch your child, assess and guide them in safe heading of the ball using these S4K techniques. Continually encourage them to put into practice the skills and right ways to head a football.
Most of all keep reminding them of the safety aspects to help them protect themselves whist they both excel and have even more fun playing football.