When I was about 12, I discovered that heading a soccer ball either comes with great ease or great pain. To middle school girl soccer players, the task of mastering a header is daunting. Coaches always say that jumping to meet the ball in stead of keeping your feet planted on the ground will cause the least amount of pain. This advice contradicts common sense: how could jumping to the ball and applying more force make this move hurt less? I decided to trust them, and as a result my head became my biggest weapon in my soccer arsenal.
Whenever my coach set up practice corner kicks, he put me in the center of the action. I love hunting balls down in the air, out jumping my opponent, and sending the ball soaring through the air using just the surface of my forehead. At 5’7’’, I never was the tallest player on the field, but I could compete with anybody when it came to balls out of the air. Since 40% of my goals in my high school soccer career were scored with my head off of corner kicks and crosses, it’s safe to say that I love the battle in the air.
On June 3rd, 2010, the 100 degree Alabama heat hovered over the fields at the U12 Regional Tournament. My team from North Carolina had advanced to Regionals after winning the State Championship a few weeks prior.
Our first game was against the champions of Alabama. After the second minute of the game, Alabama’s defense proved porous and disorganized. When we won a corner, a feeling bubbled inside of my stomach, cluing me in that something special was about to happen.
My friend Haley meticulously placed the ball on the corner, took a few steps back, approached the ball with her tongue sticking out the slightest bit, and whipped a ball in to the box.
As my team flooded the box, the feel of Alabama’s defenders sank in molasses, and the defenders froze in space. Haley delivered a magical ball, so my job was simple: sprint to the spot it was falling and finish.
The ball lofted a bit higher and lighter than usual, so my approach and lift off adjusted toward the flight of the ball. I had lost my defenders and out-jumped the goalie. As the ball made contact with my head, I whipped my neck toward the net. A moment of silence spread across the stadium, but roars from the crowd interrupted the calm.
My goal set our team on a 5-0 run that ended with a victory against the home Alabama team. However, my team lost the next 4 games and didn’t make it past the round robin.
I learned from this goal that half the battle of corner kicks is the delivery: this magical moment felt so powerfully “me” and “my goal”, but in reality Haley’s beautiful ball enabled my dad to capture his favorite action shot from my 12 years of playing.
Source: Bob Mittl (My dad)