One of the most prominent traits that set apart a rookie and a professional in soccer is who keeps their head up while playing.
There is so much happening during a soccer match. And though the ball is the center of all attention, it’s the passive players that dictate the game!
You need to know where you’re headed on the pitch, what reaction you’ll have (shoot/pass/dribble), and where the players are positioned around you on the field.
But you can’t do either of these efficiently with your eyes on the ball at all times. In contrast, keeping your eyes away from the ball or keeping your head up at all times isn’t much better either.
There’s a common misconception that the more you look away from the ball, the better your performance, which isn’t true!
Healthy soccer practice is to find a sweet spot between keeping your eyes on the ball and the field around you. It helps you keep track of the ball and the surroundings at the same time.
But we’ll get to that later!
For now, let’s sneak a peek at why one should practice keeping their head up in the first place.
When to Keep Your Head Up in Soccer?
Keeping your head up in soccer gives you an extraordinary vision. And a vision, in return, helps you out with finishing, passing, and dribbling most of all.
You know for a fact that keeping your head up makes you aware of your surroundings. So, I won’t dig any deeper into that to bore you out.
But I must highlight that the unwarranted flyer of keeping your head up at all times is guilty of misleading numerous newcomers to soccer. It’s not practical at all!
You need to connect with the ball, but you also need to have it in your peripheral vision. A miscalculated touch kills your entire move, and being aware of your surroundings becomes useless without the ball.
Ever seen Messi keep his head up all the time while dribbling past players on the field? Or Is Neymar looking the other way when wanting to nutmeg a defender? It doesn’t happen!
The key takeaway is to be aware of the surroundings and be in control of the ball simultaneously. Now, how do you do that?
The best and most practical way is to find a balance between alternating your sight. A quick glance at the ball should tell you what your next touch will be like (inside/outside foot or heel/knuckle/tip touch).
Then sneak a peek around just enough to know what your next move shall be (dribbling/passing/shooting). And that’s how it goes for the entirety of the match.
Though this should be your general practice throughout the game, here are the situations where you must keep your head up to stand apart from other players.
When Dribbling Past Players
The most immediate benefit, you see, comes in dribbling. Shifting your sight from the ball to the field around you and then back at the ball again gives you more control of the situation.
You observe the defender’s movements and are much more spontaneous in deceiving him in the wrong direction. Most non-professional defenders tend to keep their eyes strictly on the ball.
And that gives you even more power in tricking and dribbling past them!
Start your dribbling when about 5 yards away from the defender and move the ball quickly between your feet. The moment you spot the defender, shift his weight or turn to either side, quickly guide the ball in the opposite direction.
Also, keeping your head up when dribbling past players gives you a clear sight of the pitch. This helps you go towards the areas where you won’t immediately run into another and will have enough time to shoot or pass.
Before Making a Pass
The secondary improvement that I noticed in my soccer performance has been passing. Keeping your head up gives you a good picture of where everyone is on the field.
And it includes your teammates across the pitch and far away. Your ability to launch through balls or make lobe passes gets impressively better.
Though it comes without saying, this is the most crucial time to be aware of your surroundings.
The defending team will always exert pressure on you when in possession of the ball. And at times, when you succumb to pressure, you end up making a weak pass and lose possession.
The only way to keep your nerve in such a situation is to know what’s happening around you. How many players are charging at you, where your teammates are on the pitch, and who’s positioned in the clear for a pass?
And you’ll only know the answer to these if you’re looking up enough before making a pass.
Keep this up and it won’t be long before you become the set-piece maker of the team for your vision! Some of the greats of the game, like Zidane, are particularly known for this quality.
Before Taking a Shot
Last but not least comes a significant improvement in your shooting skills!
Ever wonder why you take so many shots at the goal, and very few of them are on target?
Yes, weak shooting skills are a contender here, but so is not being aware of where the goal is in the first place. Quite often, amateur strikers will only look up for a brief second before trying their luck at the goal.
One of the biggest blunders most strikers commit, including myself, is to over-dribble in the attacking third. And though you may ace the dribble to perfection, you carry yourself away from the goal.
Keeping your head up keeps you aware of where you want to be on the pitch, closer to the goal. You pick up a favorite spot where you can shoot your best from and try getting there each time.
And with your head up and eyes on the goal at all times, you’re likely to succeed more often in reaching there. You end up taking many more shots at the goal, being aware of your surroundings.
And more shots mean a higher possibility of finding the back of the net!
You can improve your accuracy by knowing where the goal is from your position before you even get the ball. That way, you’ll know what direction you’ll have to launch the ball.
And the last-minute glance at the goal can then be only a confirmation ritual.
How to Keep Your Head Up in Soccer?
The theory of keeping your head is arguably one of the most attractive ones in soccer. It empowers you to know that making such small changes will improve your game significantly.
But it’s putting the theory into practice that filters out good players from casual soccer players. So, before we begin, let me tell you that it will be a painfully slow journey!
The surest way you can build a habit of keeping your head up in soccer is by practice, practice, and practice. Only if you make enough muscle memory to react in certain situations instinctively will you execute them in a live match.
And it’s going to be quite a while in practice before you start seeing notable changes in your performance. But without further ado, let’s hit the practice sessions and get to work!
1. Cone Drills
Cone drills are one of the boring parts of soccer training. But this is where all the major developments in your performance begin.
Practicing your dribbling skills around cones builds a habit of keeping your head up at the grass-root level. You can mix and match cone drills with other sessions or partner up with friends to keep things interesting.
There are at least 32 different cone drills for dribbling to practice for better ball control, vision and keeping your head up.
Though we can not go through each one individually here, I’ve added an example of the perfect cone drill for starters, the Inside/Outside touch, to push you into the right direction!
- Start with an inside touch of the boot guiding the soccer ball through the first two cones.
- Stop the ball at the other end with an outside touch of the same foot.
- Tap the ball through the second gap with an inside touch of the second foot.
- Stop the ball at the other end with an outside touch of the same foot (the second).
- Repeat until you reach the end of the cones.
Practicing cone drills similar to this will make you more comfortable with the ball at your feet.
And the more comfortable you are with the primary and most frequent touches in soccer, the easier it becomes to keep your head up. The idea is to master all of the essential contacts so as to build muscle memory.
When you have enough muscle memory for these moves, you won’t feel the need to look at the ball with every touch. And so, you’ll have plenty of time to look around and see what’s happening while instinctively keeping the ball at your feet.
The only downside to practicing cone drills is that it needs patience, and it needs a lot of it!
Cone drills are known to be one of the most boring training practices for soccer among beginners. But with enough time given, these will build the most vital foundation for your game performance.
2. Practice with A Partner
Once you’re well acquainted with the basic touches of the soccer ball, amp up the difficulty by asking a friend out for joint training sessions.
Other than improving your ability to look up during a soccer match, partners work best in keeping you punctual to your training sessions. And this is perhaps the most significant benefit of this strategy.
You can try multiple practices like short passes, long balls, first-touch passes, dribbling past one another, and taking rolling shots at a target.
Make it a habit to keep your head up while making a pass or taking a quick shot with your partner. Since there is no pressure from other players, it’s a safe environment to start building the habit.
You can take parallel runs from one end of the field to the other while passing the ball between yourselves. This improves your passing ability greatly.
And since you’re both continuously moving, it forces you to look at your partner and keep your head up before making the pass.
But as beneficial as this training method is, it is not easy to find a partner who shares the same goals as you. Though not rare, but easy either.
So, you might have to knock a few doors before you find a partner who is willing to improve the same aspect of his game as yours.
3. Progressive Dribbling
Progressive dribbling is another excellent way to practice keeping your head up during a soccer match.
You begin by dribbling past a static object. It can be a plant, cone, or a pair of shoes. Run towards the object with the ball at your feet and begin dribbling at about 5 yards in length from it.
After you’re comfortable with going past the static object, put another one a few steps further from it. And in your next progression, try to master dribbling past these two static objects.
In the next progression, you can practice with a friend. Since you’re fluent in dribbling mechanisms now, you’ll look up more now with a moving player against you.
You’ll look for his body language and try to adjust your dribbles according to his positioning. And if that starts to seem too easy, too, start adding more players to the mix.
You can have a team practice with a couple of players or even team up with a few to mimic a live game but still keep things casual.
Also, you’ll notice that you’ll feel much more comfortable initiating dribbles and making accurate passes to your teammates now.
And the final progression is to apply all of the muscle memory and hard work into a match. You’ll fail with looking up a few times but will eventually get it right.
The drawback here, again, is the time required to master this ability. Most newcomers to soccer want immediate results, and this is the farthest thing from speedy learning.
4. Color Drills
This method of encouraging players to look up while playing soccer is planned by Derek Evans, a soccer expert from Cardiff. I found it one to be the most effective practice for getting players to keep their head up.
The drill is set in a 30m x 20m pitch with each of its corners marked with blue, white, green, or red. And each of the players on the pitch is given a ball each to dribble around.
The coach or trainer has a flag for each of the colors of the corners and silently moves around. And the players have to look up and see the color being waived and reach the corresponding corner.
This is a constructive way to keep players entertained while making them develop several skills at a time. For starters, they improve their dribbling, competitiveness, and keeping their head up.
Since there is no other way of finding out what corner to go next to, the players are forced to keep their eyes on the coach while dribbling around.
You can raise the difficulty here by introducing an elimination rule for the last player to reach the corner. Eventually, there’ll only be a single player left who wins, and then the round resets.
Keeping your head up in soccer is one of the first signs of a competent player. It shows his understanding of the game dynamics as one knows how to play with other players on the field.
You take three basic actions on a soccer pitch, namely shooting, passing, and dribbling. And keeping your head up makes sure you get the best of all three.
You can start by practicing individual skills or team up with friends to work towards the same goal. But be mindful that it takes a lot of time to master. So, patience is really a virtue here!
Hi there, I’m Jay.
Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!