Any soccer player looking to become a strong defender must learn to head the ball properly. It is the ability to clear a ball using one’s head that will help ease the threat of crosses into the box as well as a team’s ability to score from corner kicks or free kicks. Many teams have lost important games as a result of not being able to properly defend in the air. There are many aspects to the header from a defensive standpoint that include anticipating defending the header and executing a defensive header.
Working on headers should be included in all practices for any defensive player. The world’s best defenders are all excellent in the air using their heads including the likes of Carlos Puyol and Sergio Ramos. In fact many defensive players are so good using their heads that they score more goals in the air than their striker teammates. A defender must be able to head the ball with maximum power in order to clear the ball as far away as possible. Accuracy may seem to be less important for a defensive header, however, this is not always the case as a defending player should ideally be able to seek out a teammate to head the ball to.
Defensive headers require quite a bit of work leading up to the moment of contact. Every defensive player on the field should have a man marked on set pieces near the box (corner kicks, free kicks) in order to avoid an open player getting a free header on target. Offensive players will be seeking to run into open space and it is for this reason that defensive players must take the responsibility of not providing any space for them. Much like an offensive attacker, a defender should be anticipating when the ball will arrive in the box and aim to get their forehead onto the ball. A big difference between an attacking header and a defensive header is the lack of a run up. Usually when defending a header, a player will not be able to run onto the ball as they will be more concerned about defending an offensive player’s run up. However, the form and body position at the moment of contact should be the same. A player should look to get up as high as possible, arch their back, and push their body forward at the precise moment of contact. A player who is unable to use their head to clear the ball and defend their goal is a defensive liability to any team. Nobody who is afraid of heading the ball or unable to fundamentally master the skill should be playing defence. It is a skill that requires much practice and work inside the training ground and is not something that should ever be ignored.
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