Advanced Passing – The Back Heel



The soccer back heel is literally kicking the ball backward by hitting it with the back part of the shoe that covers the heel of the foot.

The back heel is usually a pass, but can sometimes be used as a shot.  Although the pass can be performed in a similar way to a traditional back pass, with the player in possession of the ball facing toward the attacking goal and kicking it to a trailing teammate, it can also be performed with the player facing toward the defensive goal.  In either case, the kick is made by moving the kicking foot ahead of the ball and then kicking it with the heel of that foot, sending the ball backward from the direction the player is facing.

Although it may seem simple enough, the back heel is considered to be an advanced skill because of four considerations:  1. It is likely being performed under duress; 2. It is difficult to see to strike the ball accurately; 3. The curved surface of the heel striking the curved surface of the ball increases the chance of misdirection; and, 4. There is high probability that there is a defender directly behind, in the path of the ball.  If the back heel is not performed properly, the ball is likely to be kicked directly to the following defender.

To perform a back heel, whether dribbling or standing still, the non-kicking foot is first placed beside the ball and proper balance attained to allow the kicking leg to swing freely.  The kicking foot is then brought over the top or around the side of the ball such that the heel is ahead of the center of the ball.  The sole of the kicking foot must be at least parallel to the ground and the kick is made with the foot in the air.  Lock the ankle and kick the center of the ball with the center of the heel.  Keep the ball on the ground, sending it straight back. The ball must be struck with enough force to reach the teammate.

Players must use the back heel rarely, when the situation is optimal.  This usually comes with experience.  These are short passes.  There is no wind up and the ball must be sent quickly.  If the ball is moving forward, the plant foot must be placed far enough ahead of the ball to allow for the movement of the ball before it is struck.  As with most skills, players must see their foot contact the ball.  Vision, awareness and timing are key.  Beginners must be taught to take a subtle peek.

If the player is not kicking straight-back and wants the ball to go slightly diagonally, they must turn their hips and then still kick backward, directly behind.  The hips should be squared such that, in a normal stance (i.e., no twist at the waist), the chest is directly forward of the potential receiver and the shoulders face directly back to the receiver.

Demonstration 1 – Basic Back Heel as Back Pass (“Facing in the Direction of the Attacking Goal”)

Drill 1 – Two players with one ball, not moving.  Two cones approximately 10 yards apart.  Players at each cone, facing in the same direction.  Player with ball steps over the ball and then back heels it to the “following teammate” who receives and then stops ball.  Players both turn to face the opposite direction.  Second player performs back heel.  Repeat, using the other foot.  Repeat again swinging the foot around the side of the ball instead of a step-over. (Note that, like a traditional back pass, the ball must be struck with enough force to cover the distance to the teammate quickly and not stop or die in between.)

Demonstration 2 – Adding Movement; Basic Back Heel as Back Pass (“Facing in the Direction of the Attacking Goal”)

Drill 2 – Same as Drill 1, but add a third cone in line with the first two and also approximately 10 yards away.  The first player, with ball, starts at the middle cone and dribbles to the first cone.  The following player starts at the last cone and simultaneously moves to the middle cone as the first player dribbles forward.  Upon reaching the first cone, the player with the ball either uses an extended step-over or a sole-of-the-foot pull-back to position the moving ball, and then executes the back pass as in Drill 1.  Repeat as in Drill 1.

Demonstration 3 – Back Heel to Overlapping Teammate (“Facing in the Direction of the Defensive Goal”)

Drill 3 – Using the three-cone set up from Drill 2, place the player in possession of the ball at one distant cone and the receiver at the other distant cone, both facing each other.  It must be understood that the player with the ball is facing away from the attacking goal and that the teammate will be running past, on the overlap, toward the attacking goal.  As the player in possession starts dribbling, the teammate starts their run.  The back heel is made as a lead pass at the point where the teammate runs past.*  This is likely to occur in the vicinity of the middle cone.  Note that pass is not to hit the cone.  This cone best represents a defender on the passer’s back.  Repeat for both feet and receiver going to opposite sides of the ball carrier.

Demonstration 4 – Back Heel as a Shot (“Facing with Back to Goal”)

Drill 4 – In front of goal, set up a cone as a defender and another cone as the goalkeeper.  Place the player in possession of a ball ahead of the “defender” cone with their back to the goal.  Use a back heel to score while avoiding hitting either cone.  Vary the locations side-to-side and near-and-far to goal. Repeat with both feet.

Demonstration 5 – Back Heel as a Diagonal Pass (“Facing in the Direction of the Attacking Goal”)

Drill 5 – Set up four cones, essentially three in a unilateral triangle with one bisecting the base.  The points of the triangle should be approximately 10 yards apart.  A player with the ball dribbles from the middle (bisector) cone to the top cone and then uses a back heel to try to hit one of the corner cones.  Use the right heel for the kick to the back-and-right cone and then repeat using the left heel for the kick to the back-and-left cone.  (Note again the importance of turning the hips to attain the correct kicking angle.  This is best done with a placement of the non-kicking foot parallel to the respective line of the triangle.)

As appropriate, each drill above should be extended by first adding stationary defenders and then by having the defenders go live.

Demonstration 6 – Adding Power

Drill 6 – Only after full technique of the back heel has been mastered, including proper timing and ball contact, should additional power be considered.  Adding power is generally achieved by incrementally increasing the distance between a.) pairs of players, or b.) a bangboard or wall.


*Note that, in a real game, the overlapping player may have to run close by the back-heeling teammate in order to brush off their defender.

Soccer Coaching Tips:

  • Youth coaches need to understand that, as an advanced technique, teaching the back heel is for upper age groups. Even then, it’s probably not worth spending a lot of time on it.  Most often there are more important concepts on which to work.
  • For the non-shooting drills, orient the cones parallel to the sidelines and in the general vicinity on the field where a back heel is most likely to be performed. This is usually just inside the attacking third, approximately 40 yards from goal.
  • A player can get out of a trap along the sideline or in a corner with a back heel.
  • Even more advanced back heels include striking a moving ball one-touch, striking a bouncing ball, or striking a side volley.
  • Faking a back heel can be used as an advanced dribbling move.
  • Because of the danger of interception, coaches may wish to establish a tactical team rule that back heels are never to be attempted in the defensive third.
  • The sole of the foot (or “pull back”) can be used as a similar pass to the back heel or a back pass, but it is not recommended because it has no power and it really should only be done without a defender present.

© Copyright, John C. Harves