Jump Heading in Soccer


(Intermediate Heading)

© CoachingAmericanSoccer.com®

Jump heading in soccer is a critical skill because it allows a player to get to an airborne ball first, before the opponent, whether on offense or defense.  Learning the skill properly is essential, no matter what position you might play.  Even goalkeepers find themselves in circumstances that require them to head the ball!  Successful jump heading provides a huge advantage to a team.  By getting to the ball first, you direct your will to maintain possession, clear the ball away from the goal, or shoot to score.

REMINDERS ABOUT AGES FOR HEADING – No heading before U-10; Standing heading introduced at U10; Introduce simple jump heading at U11; Increase re-direction, power, and distance of headed (outgoing) balls at U12; Increase speed, height and distance of incoming balls at U14.


  • Parents, siblings, and other players must be clearly instructed to NOT take it upon themselves to teach heading
  • No one is to ever throw a ball at a child’s head
  • Players are not to try to throw a ball up into the air to attempt heading it themselves (“self toss”); this rarely works and it develops improper technique
  • No young player is to be forced to head a ball; heading is an “unnatural” act and children who are reluctant to head at first do so from a normal protective instinct; no teammates should be allowed to ridicule a reluctant player
  • Young players must never hit the ball with the top or side of the head

Suggested Progression for Teaching Jump Heading

    • Introduction
    • Review Rules
    • Demonstration
    • Review Standing Heading
    • The Run Up
    • The Jump
    • Leg Thrust
    • The Landing
    • Put it All Together
    • Drills
    • Directionality (Attacking, Defending, Passing)
    • Strength Training and Plyometrics


Explain the progression from standing heading to jump heading.  Players must first know basic heading technique before learning jump heading.  This progresses from proper waist bend to adding the jump (getting height, “getting air”), to competing with an opponent for the ball, to directing the ball properly.

Rules Regarding Contact with Opponents

Talk to players about how the Laws of the Game apply to jump heading.  Most jump heading is contested.  This means that during jump heading, it is highly likely that two opposing players will make contact with each other.  This contact must remain legal by both players.  The most important items to consider are:  Having position; Not “jumping at” an opponent; and, Not committing any other type of foul.

Having position – Players attempting to go for a jump header must know how high they can jump and then get to the spot to jump from, first.  Running into an opponent, who got to the spot first and “has position,” or landing on them by being late, is unacceptable.  Conversely, there is nothing in the Laws of the Game that requires a player who “has position” first to jump for the ball or even to play the ball.  Simply “having position” first, however, does not give a player the right to “back into” an opponent or to “undercut” or “submarine” someone who is legitimately jumping up to play the ball. This should be penalized as illegal charging or unsporting conduct.

Not “jumping at” an opponent – It is insufficient to just get the ball if, by doing so, you slam into the opponent.  This is a violation of the jumping provision contained in Law 12.  Similarly, if the opponent gets position first, a player may not “go over the top” of, “climb the back” of, or “go through” them to get the ball, even if the opponent does not jump up to go for the ball themselves. (This is where the coaching phrase, “play the ball not the man,” should probably be, “play the ball avoid the man.”)

Not committing any other type of foul – After jumping, the two most common fouls that occur during jump heading are charging and pushing.  Shoulder-to-shoulder contact, back-to-front contact, and front-to-front contact is allowed during jump heading when performed properly, just as in the regular field of play when the ball is on the ground.  The arms must essentially stay at the sides or clearly be used for balance.  “Throwing elbows,” is not only illegal but extremely dangerous.  (The elbow thrust used during heading, with the elbows down at the sides and thrust backward, is legal.  Raised elbows that make contact with the opponent can cause concussions or facial fractures.)

The temptation to put hands on the opponent is great during jump heading, especially on the back.  Pushing at any time before, during, or after, jump heading is a foul. While having position and not going up or “challenging” for the ball is legal, backing into and “undercutting” an opponent, is illegal and dangerous.  Holding can also be called if a player puts his hands on top of the opponent’s shoulders to keep them from jumping.  (In addition, teammates may not assist a player by trying to lift the jumper higher.  This is unsporting behavior.)

The best way to address staying legal during jump heading is the concept of “jumping straight up” when faced with contact.  There is nothing formal in the Laws of the Game to address this, but it is mentioned in the NCAA rulebook.  Coaches should talk to players that someone running full speed for a jump header, who gets the ball first and then takes out the opponent is not helping the team with the foul.  This is particularly true in the defensive third of the field.

A player may not lift a teammate to gain a height advantage.  This should be penalized as “unsporting conduct.”

Coaches should note that, similar to the ways referees apply the “Advantage Rule” differently as players get older, more contact during jump heading may also be allowed as age and competency increase.


Using a skilled senior player or assistant coach, toss the ball from about 10-feet away, with a simple arc, to a spot in the air approximately six-inches above the player’s forehead.  Have the player return the ball with a correct jump header.  Then let the players sample jump heading for themselves.

There are two types of general approaches that can easily be used with players to introduce jump heading.  One involves a pendulum training ball (or tether ball) and the other involves the coach holding the ball up with one outstretched hand.  The coach or an older, trained player demonstrates first, then the players can try.  In both demonstrations, the players approach the ball from “straight on” using whatever technique they wish.

Pendulum Training (“Tether”) Ball – The rope attached to the pendulum ball is swung over the crossbar of a full-sized goal.  The height of the ball from the ground is then adjusted so that the middle of the ball is six inches above the natural hairline of each player in turn.  The ball is to be made stationary before it is struck by the next player.

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Hanging Ball for Heading

Coach Holds the Ball – In the absence of a pendulum training ball, the coach holds the ball on a flat palm, with the arm stretched up and out, so that the ball is six inches above the natural hairline of each player in turn.  To be efficient, a number of balls should be used, along with players acting as retrievers.

Coach Holding Ball for Jump Heading

Review Standing Heading

Jump heading begins with proper heading technique.  This requires satisfactory completion of basic heading.  Start by reviewing the CoachingAmericanSoccer.com Introduction to Soccer Heading.

Perform the most important drills with all players:  Heading while sitting on the ground; and, General standing heading.   In both cases, emphasis is to be placed on bending at the waist, arm motion, and neck motion.  It is then stated that the jumping portion will be added.  Also, remind players that contacting the ball at the natural hairline remains critical.

      • Heading While Sitting on the Ground – (Players in pairs.) With one player’s torso perpendicular to the ground while sitting, the teammate tosses the ball with both hands at the proper point in space approximately four inches in front of the player’s forehead. The player is instructed to bend backward from the waist, put both arms out in front of the torso, and pull the chin in.  The player is then to bend forward from the waist and nod into the ball; repeat; switch players.
      • General Standing Heading – (Players in pairs.) Receiving player now stands with a solid base, feet shoulder-width apart, first with one foot ahead of the other. Using a gentle toss from the server, the player action is performed as above.  The server, using the minimum force necessary to get the ball to the right position in space, delivers a two-handed, underhand, slightly-arcing ball from approximately six-feet away.  The heading player is to try to head the ball back to the server’s waist as forcefully as possible.

Coaching reminders:

      1. Before the ball arrives, keep the eyes open and the mouth closed.
      2. Obtain proper balance with the arms out ahead of the torso.
      3. Simultaneously bend backward at the waist and pull the head and chin back at the neck.
      4. As the ball arrives, remember to aggressively strike the ball and to not let the ball hit the player.
      5. Simultaneously bend forward from the waist and snap the head and chin forward from the neck, while forcefully pulling the elbows backward.
      6. Contact the center of the ball with the center of the forehead at the natural hairline.

As with the standing heading progression, the jump heading progression begins with headers performed straight back in the direction from which the ball came.

Start with the Run-Up

In order to make a jump header, the player has to get to their maximum take-off location on the field.  This location is ultimately based on the flight of the ball, the presence of an opponent, and the understanding on the part of an individual player of exactly how high they can jump.  This knowledge of how high a player can jump comes from lots of practice, proper technique, and muscle development.

In general, any given player will have to move from an existing position on the field to the take-off location.  This can be from as little as two steps to approximately ten yards.  Under either case, the move must be performed quickly to get the greatest advantage.  When the ball is in the air, the first action is to try to get in line with the flight of the ball, with the torso and hips perpendicular to its path.

Optimally, the run-up should be timed so that the forward momentum of the run can be translated into the upward momentum of the jump.  This is helped with a dynamic upward thrust of the arms.  The timing of when to jump comes with practice, repetition, and exposure to numerous on-field soccer situations.

Players need to be warned not to over-anticipate and start the run-up too soon.  Doing so creates the possibility of over-running the ball and being forced to stop or, worse, to have to back up.  Stopping or backing up creates a situation where the ball can be missed entirely or deflects to a following opponent.

Add the Jump

It is important to note that it is rare that a jump header will be performed from a standing position.  In most cases at least two steps will be taken first, and it is entirely possible that a short sprint will be used to reach a proper take-off position.  As such, when adding the “jump” to “jump heading,” coaches need to identify a starting position and a take-off position with different-colored disks set at least two-yards apart.

There are two types of basic jumps, the single-leg jump and the double-leg jump. In both cases, players are to:

Get to the take-off spot.

Make the jump, coming off the ball of the foot.

While going up, perform all of the upper body actions associated with standing heading. The hands are now directed upward during the jump.  The force of placing the arms in the proper position is used to help gain height.

Pull the heels up toward the buttocks.

Single-leg jump:  When jumping off one leg, which leg is chosen for the jump is usually a matter of personal preference. It should be noted, however, that which leg to use may be situational.  The wrong leg may cause unwanted contact with the opponent so players really need to know how to take off using either leg.  Just before takeoff, the last step of the plant foot should cause a bending at the knee to prepare the quadriceps of that leg for contraction. Upon takeoff, simultaneously, the knee of the non-takeoff leg should be forcefully pushed upward, bending at the hip and knee above the level of the waist, while the quadriceps of the take-off leg are contracted to force the body into the air.  (The single-leg jump, often used by goalkeepers, is also known as the “jack-knife” jump.)  The single-leg jump is the most common.

Two-leg jump:  When jumping off both legs, just before takeoff, the last step of the lead foot should land at the takeoff position and the following foot should land opposite the lead foot, about shoulder-width apart.  As the second foot starts to contact the ground, both legs are to be bent at the knee to prepare the quadriceps of those legs for contraction. Upon takeoff, simultaneously the legs should be forcefully extended, pushing upward, straightening while the quadriceps of the legs are contracted to force the body into the air.

Add the Leg Thrust

After players become comfortable with basic jumping, it must be demonstrated that, as a player has begun the jump into the air, the lower legs are to be brought up toward the buttocks.   This is done with either of the two jumps. This can be shown as the heels being raised as a result of bending the knees.  This action has two benefits, it adds to upward momentum and it provides additional power to the header.  In order to achieve the power to the ball, at the peak height of the jump, the legs are extended at the same time the ball is struck.

The Landing

With either of the two jumps, the player should land balanced on both feet. If there is any chance that an opponent’s feet (or any other part of the opponent themself) should be on the ground underneath, they need to be avoided in the landing.  This is to try to minimize the risk of turning an ankle.

Put it all Together

Still without using the ball, players are now to practice:

Running or stepping up to a spot, starting with the one-leg jump.

Jumping to reach maximum height; while at the same time they are going up:

Forcing the arms up

Bringing the heels toward the buttocks

Performing all the upper-body preparatory actions of a standing header:

Keeping the eyes open and the mouth closed

Bending back at the torso

Pulling the chin to the chest

Bring the arms to a forward position, elbows bent and slightly ahead of the chest

Pretend hitting the ball at the highest point of the jump using:

Forward waist bend

Head and chin extension

Thrusting the elbows backward

Thrusting the legs forward

Striking the center of the ball with the center of the forehead at the natural hairline

Add the actual header by re-visiting the Pendulum Trainer (tether ball) or the Hand-held Ball.  Do not try to get maximum height at this time; the objective is to get correct technique.  Coaches correct as necessary.

Option:  Two Players, Teammate Holds the Ball up with Both Hands – In pairs with similar heights, one teammate holds the ball up, above head level, with outstretched arms and the ball firmly grasped with both hands in a “goalkeeper’s ‘W’.”  The heading player jumps straight up from a standing position (or takes two steps) and, using proper technique, “heads” the ball hard into the teammate’s hands.  Repeat and then exchange positions.


Three-Player Drill Series:

Establish players in groups of three with similar heights.  One player will act as the “server,” one player will act as the “distractor” (opponent), and one player will act as the “jump header” (jumper).  In each of the following drills, the server faces the other two players from approximately five- to ten-yards away.  The distractor stands directly in front of the jumper.  The service is critical.  The server must toss an arcing ball to a spot that is over the head of the distractor and properly above the head of the jump header so that the jumper may successfully head the ball back to the server.  After at least five repetitions, the players exchange positions.

Drill 1:

The distractor/opponent, directly in front of the jumper, stands still with each service.

Drill 2:

The distractor/opponent, directly in front of the jumper, jumps early with each service, starting to come down just as the ball arrives at the jumper.

Drill 3:

The player performing the jump header starts from a position approximately three-yards back from the distractor/opponent.  The jumper must time their “run,” to the spot directly behind the distract/opponent, just as the ball begins to be served.

The distractor/opponent, directly in front of the jumper, still jumps early with each service, starting to come down just as the ball arrives at the jumper, and lands in the same position.

Drill 4:

The player performing the jump header starts from a position approximately three-yards back from the distractor/opponent.  The jumper must time their “run,” to the spot directly behind the distract/opponent, just as the ball begins to be served.

The distractor/opponent, directly in front of the jumper, jumps simultaneously with the jumper, but does not vie for the ball.

Drill 5:

The player performing the jump header starts from a position approximately three-yards back from the distractor/opponent.  The jumper must time their “run,” to the spot directly behind the distract/opponent, just as the ball begins to be served.

The distractor/opponent, directly in front of the jumper, jumps simultaneously with the jumper, and vies for the ball.

Drill 6:

The distractor and the jumper start side-by-side, approximately three-yards away from the start of the downward arc of the service.  (The spot of the start of the “run” and the spot of the expected jump may be marked with disks.)

The server arcs the ball in space so that it can be headed above the location used in the previous drills (above the appropriate disk if disks are placed and toward the training jumper).

Both the jumper and the opponent challenge to win the jump header.

Drill 7: (Optional)

Same as Drill 6, but the service is sent equidistantly between the two players.

Pendulum Ball Drill:

Using the pendulum training (tether) ball, adjust the height to appropriately challenge each player and make the ball swing to simulate the flight that might be seen in a match.


Once players are comfortable with all of the techniques of jump heading, the concept of sending the ball in a different direction from which it was received, or of physically contacting the ball itself in a different location from dead-center, may be introduced.  Basically, this consists of two more items of instruction:

Sending the ball right or left – In either case, the player approaches the flight of the ball in the same way, “squaring the hips” or arriving with the hips perpendicular to the ball’s incoming path, and then twists at the waist during the jump in order to head the ball off to one side.

Sending the ball up or down – In either case, the player must slightly alter the timing of the jump in order to properly strike the ball.  Jumping slightly late allows the ball to be struck just below the midline, sending the ball up in the air.  Jumping slightly early allows the ball to be struck just above the midline, sending the ball down toward the ground.

These techniques are implemented in two basic ways, commonly referred to as “attacking” or “offensive” headers, and “defensive” or “clearance” headers.

Attacking Header

An attacking jump header is generally defined as one that is used to score goals.  Essentially, the ball is contacted above the midline and directed down toward the goal-line.  These are very common when the ball is received from a cross or a corner kick.

Drill:  Using a standard goal, service can be thrown by hand from a coach or a teammate standing on the end-line at a position about five-yards outside the near post.  The receiver starts from a position, marked by a disk, approximately twelve-yards into the field directly outside the far post.  The service is made to a spot in the air above the exact center of the six-yard line (outer marking of the Goal Area).  The receiver then performs a jump header that is intended to strike the goal-line inside the post closest to the server.

Defensive Header

A defensive header is generally defined as one that is used to send the ball up and away from the goal.  Essentially, the ball is contacted below the midline and directed as far as possible toward the sideline (wide) and upfield.  The ball must be sent over the heads of nearby defenders.

Drill:  Place target disks or actual players five-yards into the field, 35-yards up from the corners.  Coming out from a standard goal, the service is provided from a player or coach who throws the ball from about 35-yards out, in the middle of the field, so that the ball is expected to be contacted at the middle of the outer line of the Penalty Area.  Headers may be made to either target.

Options:  Move positions of server and header; move from one side of the goal to the other; change service from a throw to a kick, moving the location farther away from the heading (age-dependent); add passive offensive players; add a passive goalkeeper; call out the target; create moving targets; add active players; go live.

Heading for Passing

Training for jump heading up to this point almost exclusively is designed for power.  Jump heading for passing is a case that often requires finesse.  All of the actions associated with attacking and defensive heading are applicable to using jump heading to pass the ball to a teammate.  Training for the attacking header, however, is useful because it can be built upon to pass the ball down to a teammate’s feet.

Under any circumstance, the most important aspect of jump heading for passing is that the ball makes it to the intended receiver.  There are two added factors when passing to a teammate:  1.) The teammate may be moving; and, 2.) The pace of the ball comes into play.  Accordingly, coaches need to introduce jump heading to players that involve leading a running receiver and taking pace off the ball in order that the receiver has sufficient time and space to play the ball properly after it is received.

Jump Headers in Set Pieces

It is extremely common for jump headers to be incorporated into set pieces, such as corner kicks and re-starts from free kicks.  This not only involves training in the attacking plan of the set piece, but also defending against those presented by an opponent.  See the CoachingAmericanSoccer.com article on Offensive Corner Kicks as an example.

Strength Training

Jump heading requires use of almost all parts of the body.  Whereas basic core strength is mandatory, focus is required on strengthening the muscles of the abdomen, back, shoulders, neck, arms, calves, hamstrings, quads, and gluteals.  Comprehensive stretching and weight training must be involved.

Plyometric Training

Plyometrics are jump-training exercises that focus on exerting maximum muscular force in short intervals.  This is especially helpful for obtaining maximum height in jump heading.  See the CoachingAmericanSoccer.com presentation on Soccer Plyometrics.

Soccer Coaching Tips:

  • The techniques involved in heading are easiest to learn when squarely facing an incoming ball. That is why both the standing and the jump heading progressions start with straight-on serves and returns. The twist at the waist is the absolutely critical component that is then used to re-direct the ball.
  • Receiving the ball from all different directions, angles, heights, and speeds, and directing the ball to the proper location, completes the general heading progression. Repetition is the key to successful heading, however, coaches must be aware to not overtrain the players, especially with youth. Concussions are very real and there is still much to learn about possible long-term effects.
  • Heading heads happens.   Be prepared accordingly.
  • Whether on attack or defense, jump heading is a particularly aggressive act. Players must be encouraged to independently train to increase the height of their vertical leap for maximum elevation (“ups”); to forcefully win the ball in aerial challenges; to strive to “hang in the air” as long as possible when they are airborne; to go up (“rise”) for the ball every single time with the intent of defeating the opponent; and to conduct every part of jump heading with energy, intensity and assertiveness.
  • Some players are just better at jumping than others. Often, this is simply a matter of lucky genetics.  Coaches should never allow players to get discouraged or to give up on improving their jumping.  Consistent training in jumping is required.
  • Coaches should train their players to use either leg equally for the single-leg jump. Situations will dictate which leg gives the jumper an advantage for the header.
  • Supplemental drills include two players using jump headers back-and-forth; and, three players using jump headers to send the ball around in a triangle.
  • Coaches may wish to look at the web for jumping for basketball rebounds for hints.
  • Regular heading and jump heading can also be performed by an individual player as part of “wall work.”
  • Reminder:  No “self toss” for heading. Individual players are not to try to throw a ball up into the air to attempt heading it themselves (“self toss”). This rarely works.  It develops improper technique because of an inappropriate flight of the ball, and players routinely and incorrectly strike the ball with the top of their head.
  • Please see Advanced Heading for the conclusion of this series.

© Copyright, John C. Harves