TECHNIQUE – HEADING
The heading is an essential part of successful soccer play, around 20% of goals come from headed shots. A player must be able to pass, shoot, clear and even control the ball using their head whether this be in a standing, jumping or diving position. For example, a central defender must be able to make a good headed clearance whilst having the capacity to move forward and score with a header from a corner kick. Younger players should be encouraged to start heading the ball early on but only using a correctly sized ball (light and smooth) to avoid the risk of head injury. Some younger players may be scared to head the ball for fear of hurting themselves and the coach must dispel this using carefully chosen introductory practices and lots of encouragement.
Indeed courage is a major factor in heading, putting your head in where it hurts is an often coined phrase. A good example being the diving header which whilst being spectacular and although can sometimes put the player at risk of injury, is one of the most satisfying goal-scoring actions. Likewise, attacking the ball is an important technique. Again younger players may shut their eyes and let the ball strike their head due to a lack of courage whereas they should attack the ball.
- – Accurate contact with the ball: Contact with the ball should always be made with the forehead area. From time to time, a player may use the top of their head to flick the ball on from a long flighted pass or throw-in. The eyes should always be open (at least until impact) and fixed on the ball and the body positioned in line. To direct the ball downwards, the forehead must make contact with the top half of the ball. The side of the forehead can be used to glance headers on and the middle for more direct power headers. In a stationary position, the power comes from the legs, back and neck. The player “rocks” backwards and pushes his body forward to meet the ball.
- – Attacking the ball: As mentioned earlier, this is an extremely important technique. To put power into a header requires the successful coordination of different forces. To gain power, a player can run and jump off one leg to meet the ball. This requires good timing of the run as well as anticipation of where the ball will be placed. After take off, the upper body arches backwards and this momentum produces a snapping action where the body is propelled forward. At the same time the neck is extended then snapped forward in synchronisation with the body to strike the ball with maximum power. The ball must be struck at the top of the jump, if the player jumps to early, he will touch the ball on the way down and lose all power. The ability to run and jump is useful in winning the ball in a crowd of players and should be practised to ensure perfect synchronisation of the action.
It is important to mention the technique for flicking the ball on which is often neglected by coaching books. This technique involves jumping for the ball to play (or continue) it in more or less the same direction where it was played from. Many teams will play a long flighted pass from the back to the centre-forward who will try to win the aerial challenge and flick the ball onto a team-mate running behind him. This requires good timing and the ability to jump high. The player jumps in the same way as mentioned earlier but drops his head slightly forwards before making a backwards flicking movement with the head to strike the ball (usually with the top of the head) and keep it moving forwards.
To build up heading technique, the coach may want to start with simple practices such as encouraging players to juggle the ball with their head. Gently throwing the ball in the air so the player can head it back to the thrower or to players positioned around the receiver (the receiver can be static to begin with then try attacking the ball) will allow the player to gain in confidence before moving onto more complex techniques. Once the basic technique has been acquired, then differently flighted balls can be played into the player to test and improve his ability (e.g. crosses to be headed into the goal or high balls to be cleared).
AGILITY & CO-ORDINATION IN SOCCER
Agility and co-ordination are two of the many attributes required to become a successful player. Complex movements such as dribbling, turning, passing and intercepting often necessitate quick and large changes in speed and direction and correctly executing skills requires good body co-ordination.
Agility refers to the ability to change the direction of the body abruptly or to shift quickly the direction of movement without losing balance. It is dependant on a combination of factors such as speed, strength, balance and co-ordination. The ability to turn quickly, evade challenges and side-step calls for good motor co-ordination and can be measured using agility tests.
Elite athletes differentiate from the norm due to their high levels of agility and tests maybe used in talent identification. When testing agility, due to the explosive characteristics of soccer and the fact that players rarely sprint long distances, it is good to use a test lasting less than 15 seconds. Also, tests should mirror the types of activities seen in soccer, e.g. turning, running backwards and forwards. It is advised to measure performance in the early and late stages of pre-competition training and before and after specific periods of speed and strength training.
Various tests such as the Illinois Agility Run (Fig 1) or the Nebraska Agility Test (originally designed for American Football) can easily be implemented. Coaches can even devise their own tests (Fig 2). Please note that you can place the mouse cursor over each image to animate.
When undertaking specific agility training, the drills should preferably mimic the movements and demands of your position on the soccer field, e.g. central defenders tend to undertake more sideways and backwards running. Also, drills should be carried out at full speed to simulate game situations. Concentrate on deceleration, change of direction and acceleration to make these movements as efficient and automatic as possible.
Combining strength and power training with speed and agility is very important. Eccentric strength training (e.g., resisting the load during the down phase of a leg extension exercise) can help improve agility and to change direction due to greater forces generated from the stronger quadriceps muscles. Concentric muscle training may also play a role in improving turning speed especially by improving the push off phase during such actions.
Agility training can include shuttle running across small areas of the pitch with multiple sharp changes of direction as well as pressure drills with the ball such receiving and giving passes at high speed (see Fig 3 & 4).Such tasks will improve neuromuscular co-ordination through a better interaction between the nervous system and the muscles. Game related training plays an important part in improving agility. Studies on small sided games show that the regular changes of direction and speed required provide a good stimulus for increasing agility levels.
The main purpose of soccer technical training is to improve co-ordination and to automate movements. To a certain degree, co-ordination skills are developed automatically through simply playing the game although younger players can undertake general co-ordination training. Children will benefit from playing other sports such as rugby, basketball and hockey in addition to soccer practice games. Gymnastics and the trampoline can help train general co-ordination. They can also enjoy games such as standing in a line and passing the ball (to the player behind them) through their legs, over their heads and from side to side. Goalkeepers should have their own skill training drills to work on co-ordination.
More specific skills can be trained using different methods for players with good general co-ordination. Fig 4 shows a testing drill where a player must co-ordinate his running movements with specific ball skills such as passing, turning and dribbling. Otherwise, practices such as one on one drills with permanent pressure from the opposition can help the player to improve their co-ordination. Simple exercises such as uninterrupted passing the ball to a player (who is both moving and static) so he must control the ball with different parts of body and pass it back will help a player and coach to work and analyse specific co-ordination may also be useful. Coaches should attempt to improve co-ordination in testing conditions (as close to competition as possible) and combine various playing techniques.