Anatomy of a Header in Football – The in-depth Elucidation

  A Special feature article on this important subject by Dr. Ana.                                         


  1.  Look at the ball
  2. Plant your feet
  3. Bend your knees
  4. Lean back
  5. Move your head forward quickly

and that’s how you score a header in football.

Defenders commonly use headers to clear the ball away from goal in football matches and Forwards use headers to pass the ball from teammate to teammate and/or use it to score a goal. We at Spobits tried to understand the basics of taking a header and also to analyze the scientific tactics involved in making it perfect. Let’s head to it: –


Taking a header involves few specific body planes and to understand them is the first key to success. Frontal and Sagittal Planes are involved while heading a soccer ball. The ball makes contact with head on these planes. These planes are important to understand as properly deceleration of the ball is a vital step in scoring a header.

Image result for frontal and sagittal planes header

And to control the acceleration or deceleration of the ball is ultimately resting on the players speed, head position and momentum. We can try and understand this through the application of Newton’s Laws of Motion in approaching towards a header.

Newton’s First Law of Motion –

An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

Newton’s Second Law of Motion-

Acceleration is produced when a force acts on a mass. The greater the mass (of the object being accelerated) the greater the amount of force needed (to accelerate the object).

To put it simply – a player is at best to head a ball when he understands the acceleration required by his body to adequately decelerate the ball. The delicate rhythm between the player and the ball has to be mastered to achieve the first contact.

One of the most popular training method of the heading in football is ‘heading the thrown ball’. In this method, the ball is passed to the trainee directly; therefore, trajectory of the ball is similar to that seen in football games.

This helps in understanding the body position and adapting to the different bodily planes for successful deceleration of the ball. Also, since a predominant heading motion is bending of the thorax, joint angles and the angular velocity of forward and backward bending of the head and thorax, deceleration of ball is achieved beneficially.


Most header goals are scored as a result of a cross or a cornerkick. The player passes the ball across the goal in the air, and the attacking player (either standing, jumping or diving position) strikes the ball with his head.

Footballers such as Fernando Torres, Cristiano Ronaldo, Andy Carroll, Gareth Bale, Javier Hernandez, Sergio Ramos, Peter Crouch, Ali Daei and Abby Wambach  are players who are notable for their quality headers.

Heading the ball is a complex technical skill and the players are taught on the basis of the position they play, i.e, different for a striker and different for a defender. The old adage is that we teach strikers to head the ball down and defenders to head the ball high and wide.

This is not, universally, true as there are times when the latter head the ball down and strikers head the ball over, depending on the situation they are in.

Image result for header in football

According to the detailed analysis done by Spobits, a good header, surprisingly, stems with core strength in the body. The best headers typically have strong necks, shoulders, and cores which allows them to propel their bodies towards the ball. Science backs the information that the process of good headers start at the knees and legs.

Whether you jump to reach a header or not – bending of the knees and putting pressure on the legs starts the momentum that will follow up through the body to the neck and head. This is termed as ”Springiness” or an exceptional jumping ability and is said to be advantageous to players in making a header. Players like Uwe Seeler and Tim Cahill are perfect examples of this skill.

Read More: IoT and Football – How do we Connect Them? – An in-depth Analysis

The other tactical edge is to be able to read the trajectory of the ball. Good players focus on the flight of the ball rather than the movement of teammates or opponents. Unravel the trajectory path of the ball and align the body to master control over headers.

Covering your back and winning the first header are few of the many known strategies in positioning a football team with an aerial dominance.


Despite the documented advantages of headers in football, they are equally infamous due to their reputation to cause ‘Chronic traumatic encephalopathy‘ or more commonly referred to as CTE.

This occurs mainly due to repetitive impact from the incoming ball over a period of time. The first high-profile case in England was that of famous striker Jeff Astle, followed by the Brazilian footballer, Bellini who was posthumously diagnosed with CTE.


There are numerous controversies surrounding CTE in the sports domain, questioning its overall impact and its role in the game. However, the health of future young players cannot be risked and proper understanding is the first defence against such injuries.

Researchers believe concussions occur when the brain is jarred, causing it to slosh around in cerebral spinal fluid and smash into the skull. This sloshing effect can be prevented by two ways:

    1. By increasing the blood volume to the brain, for instance by using a product called ”The band” — Commercially available. It applies light pressure to the neck, which in turn mildly increases blood volume in the vein structure of the brain. This is the first solution to address mild traumatic brain injury in the skull, by increasing the volume of blood in the cranial cavity, there’s less room for the brain to move, which reduces the overall slosh effect.

    2. By increasing the CO2 content of blood to swell the brain, seen as a brilliant example of bio-mimicry in woodpeckers and big horned sheeps. In normal circumstances, we produce carbon dioxide in regular cellular processes. But if blood CO2 goes high, indicating an oxygen poor environment, blood flows to the brain increases to ensure that the all important organs has sufficient oxygen.

On a side note, some researchers also argue about the anatomical advantages few players have compared to others in respect of increased skull bone density and skull curvature while scoring a header.

Data complying such findings are non-conclusive as of yet. However, the idea remains unopposed and exciting to research, if any advantages are present based on player physique and ethnicity.

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