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The latest guidance on heading can be found here.

 

There are plenty of choices for what to do instead of heading the ball. What they decide will depend on the circumstances. The ball’s flight, the space around them, and the positioning of the other players will all have an impact on their choice. They could use a different body part to win the ball, i.e. chest, thigh, knee or foot. They might use their body as a barrier and let the ball run into space so they can play the ball on the ground.

As a coach, it’s your role to help players develop these skills so they make the right decision when it comes to playing.

 

Although players can’t head the ball, there are things they can do to prepare for when heading is introduced.

All actions in football are based around six core capabilities. Working on these in training from a young age can create more technical players who are more confident with the ball at their feet. They can also give your players an advantage when heading is introduced at later ages. You can help guide their development even without the final action of heading the ball.

The six core capabilities are:

  • scanning e.g. where are their teammates and opposition in relation to themselves and the ball
  • timing e.g. jumping at the right time or judging high balls
  • movement e.g. getting in line with the ball
  • positioning e.g. using their body as a barrier when competing for the ball
  • deception e.g. disguising intentions to deceive an opponent
  • technique e.g. picking the right action at the same time.

You can find out more about using the six core capabilities here.

 

For many children, training will look similar to before the rule change. The FA’s training guidance on heading was introduced in 2021. This states that heading shouldn’t be introduced for younger age groups, so it shouldn’t be a big change for the players.

The priority at this age is having fun and getting players used to their bodies and the ball. There’s a greater emphasis on retaining and loving the ball. Maximise enjoyment and work on the fundamentals of working with the ball with hands and feet.

Keep in mind that children will start heading the ball as they progress into older age groups. Try adding some practices to your sessions that encourage the fundamental skills and movements needed for heading that don’t include heading the ball. This will help when heading is introduced. We have created some example sessions to get you started, which you can find here.

You could also introduce neck strengthening exercises to help the neck support the act of heading. Research has shown these exercises can help with the load introduced when players head the ball.

You should always remember the individual needs of your players, especially if you coach disabled footballers. For example, people with Down’s syndrome are more likely to have underlying neck instability and so should never head the ball. Speak to your players and their parents or carers before introducing practices that encouraging heading movement or any neck strengthening exercises.

Throw-ins are a major source of headers in football. Because the ball is in the air, players who are permitted to do so are encouraged to jump for and head the ball in order to win it. This means we need an alternative way to get the ball back into play. To overcome this, we’ve introduced pass-ins and dribble-ins. Players will bring the ball back into play by either passing to another player or by dribbling back onto the pitch. 

So, what are the rules? At the moment of delivery, the ball must be stationary on the touchline, with the player off the pitch. The kick is taken where the ball went out of play, just like a throw-in. The ball is back in play when it’s touched and clearly moves. Members of the opposite team must be at least five yards away from the ball when the game is restarted. Players can score directly from a dribble-in but not from a pass-in. These techniques speed the game up and give children more experience passing and dribbling the ball. 

If a player deliberately heads the ball, the opposition is awarded an indirect free-kick at the point the ball was headed. The only exception is if this happens within a player’s own penalty area. In this case, the indirect free kick is taken from the nearest sideline of the area. There are no sanctions unless the action is persistent and deliberate.

We have developed several resources to help coaches understand the changes and how they can help their players in training and games. You can find these here.

More information on heading guidance can be found here.