Defensive headers


Up to a half pitch


Balls, cones, goals, mannequins

No. of players

Up to 10

Session time

Each practice 15mins

This session examines the skill and art of defensive headers. It’s a simple exercise, but practice makes permanent.

It’s my belief that this sort of session should be used weekly so that players get a firm steer on technique and body shape, yet accomplished heading remains a skill that is rarely practised in the modern game.

Every single game of football involves headers, and defensive headers at that, so this blueprint – which gets players working together, bonding and communicating – is of real value.

What do I get the players to do?

Heading arc

We begin in a small area, with seven defenders positioned in an arc (1). The practice requires players 2 to 7 to each have a ball in their hands. Player 1 moves forward five yards to player 2, touches the ball, then backpedals (2). Player 2 throws the ball up and over the player’s head, meaning he has to retreat quickly in order to head the ball back to player 2.


• In Heading arc, the working player runs forward, touches the ball, then backpedals in order to head back the ball which is being flighted over his head


• Heading arc technique and process in more detail

The practice continues, with player 1 making his way round to player 7, then back along the line to 2.

We rotate players so each takes a turn at being the header of the ball, then rerun, this time asking each player to see if they can head the ball over their server’s head. We can also adjust the distances between players, as required.

Double headers

For the next practice, we’re looking for two headers from each server throw – the distance is now 10 yards between players. This set-up requires mannequins, although if you don’t have any, you can use cones or even static players. The heading player starts on the inside shoulder of the mannequin for the first header, then moves round to the outside shoulder for the second header (3a). He continues along the line until reaching the end (3b); we then rotate players.


• For Double headers, the working player again returns to a server, but this time he works around the inside and outside shoulder of each mannequin


• He moves along the line, continuing to work outside first, then coming inside, to ensure his movement criss-crosses over

What are the key things to look out for?

Body shape is vital in this practice, with shoulders across the pitch – if they’re not, the headers will go off at different angles.

The working player must have a spring in his jump, with eyes open and good timing to meet the ball. And the use of neck muscles in heading the ball back with power and control, is crucial.

How do I progress the session?

We can set up a back four with servers playing balls in from all areas of the pitch. Balls should be headed back to where they came from, with height, distance and power (4).


• In the progression, a back four are floated in balls by a variety of servers, and must head each back from the direction it came, with height and power



  • Ball movementBall movement
  • Player movementPlayer movement
  • DribbleDribble
  • Optional movementOptional movement