The triumph of the Yale women’s soccer team over Harvard this weekend brought to light an often overlooked art in the game of soccer: heading.
Just over two minutes into overtime, Crysti Howser ’09 headed in a cross from Laurel Karnes ’06 to down the Crimson and register the team’s ninth consecutive win. With the victory, the Elis improved their record to 9-2 overall and 2-0 in the Ivy League.
The header goal was Howser’s fourth this season. Degree of contact is the most important element in the trajectory of a headed ball, the midfielder said.
“The others were more direct balls, which are easier for me to finish,” Howser said. “This weekend it was a longer cross, so the goalie had a lot of time to set up and be in a better position. If it’s direct or shorter, you can get a lot of momentum and speed on the header, so the goalie doesn’t have as much time.”
Any skill that aids the Bulldogs in defeating Harvard is a skill worth learning. Whether used to beat Harvard, to show off during intramurals or to impress your special someone, heading the soccer ball is an useful talent to possess.
Head Coach Rudy Meredith stressed the importance of timing while heading the ball.
“Probably the biggest part of heading the ball is timing the jump,” Meredith said. “A lot of players jump far too early and end up not being able to make good contact with the ball. I tell my players to be at the top of their jump when they hit the ball so they can beat their opponent to it.”
Another key aspect in heading involves where to make contact.
Christina Huang ’07, who plays defense, uses this skill often in competition.
“You want to keep your eyes open the whole time and hit the ball with your forehead, not the top of your head,” Huang said. “It’s important to put your whole torso into it and follow through.”
But the technique for heading the ball differs when used offensively versus defensively.
“An offensive header is more direct and more on target, whereas in a defensive header you go for more power and not as much accuracy,” Huang said. “The goal is just to get the ball far away when you’re on defense.”
Laurel Karnes ’06, who assisted the game-winning goal last Saturday, had her own take on how to head the ball.
“You just have to envision yourself in jail,” she said. “You have to put your hand on the bars and stick your head through. You’re using your body force to push your head forward, which is the same as what you do when you head a soccer ball.”
While a good imagination might help, it is not essential to heading. Just remember to use your entire body to get extra power and then direct the ball with your forehead.
So when should you use this technique?
“If there’s pressure around, it’s very effective to head it rather than let it drop,” Meredith said. “I tell my players if it is at chest level or higher, try to head the ball.”
Heading is especially useful on corner kicks, Karnes said.
“It’s easy to redirect the ball to a teammate or towards the goal,” she said.
To see this valuable skill in action, watch the Bulldogs this Saturday as they take on Dartmouth at home. The team will attempt to remain undefeated in the Ivy League while going for their tenth straight win.