Bit of a different blog post today. After the Developing Athlete blog I wrote earlier this week where I referred to players performing some regular skills practice, I remembered that (years ago) I have actually made some pretty basic footy skills videos. Now, the first one is all about handskills – you can access it here: https://youtu.be/7RHyB9OHqaM
What is the handskills video about??? Well, it’s a way to get around 500 ‘touches’ of a footy in about 10-12 minutes in order to improve your ball handling and become a bit more ‘one grab’ (aka “CLEAN”) with your hands both in the air and on the ground. I know some of it might seem ‘stupid’ but time spent with a footy in your hands is the best way to improve your skills and whilst having a ‘routine’ similar to what I show in the video above is ‘BEST’ there is no doubt that just flipping the ball from hand-to-hand whilst watching T.V. has a benefit!
Anyway, I wanted to write this post about KICKING since in yesterday’s blog I suggested that all the kids out there need to practice…I see this at colts level all the time – players come to us as ‘elite’ juniors with ‘excellent’ kicks…but unfortunately there is an issue there that causes it to break down under pressure. Kicking a footy is really (really) hard from a bio-mechanical perspective and Australian Football is the only game in the world that requires all participants to do it – SOME players do it in a game of rugby (but even then, the most ‘important’ kicks are taken with the ball stationary on the ground) and one player per team does it in both what I grew up calling Soccer (the goalie) and Grid Iron (the punter). It is hard and to become even semi competent you need to practice.
If you want to practice, here is a little practice routine I have put together that covers *most* bases with kicking – but remember, as with all practice it is usually more about the intensity and energy you put into the training than the exercises you do (here’s the video: https://youtu.be/VkS-C7DsKRg) that is key to getting results.
So. Back to your kicking/your players’ kicking! What can go wrong? Well, there is a lot but USUALLY it is usually one of (about) five or six things:
Excessive ball movement
Guide arm/Ball drop
The question is (of course), how do you identify it and WHAT do you do about it.
First things first, you really want to get some video of the person kicking. Get them to pick a target point at about 70% of their maximum range (so a comfortable kick) to kick at and film them (both feet) from in front, side on and behind. We all have these amazing tools in our pockets called mobile phones that are just amazing for capturing video…and if you don’t have iMovie on your laptop/iPAD to help with the assessment and review, well, get it. Or find someone who has it and get them to do it for you.
I can’t emphasis the importance of capturing the video as part of this process. You can tell kids they are (incorrectly) ‘dropping’ the ball with two hands versus guiding it with one until the cows come home…but if you SHOW THEM they will immediately understand. Why film from in front/side-on/behind? Well, because – like I said before, kicking is a very complex bio-mechanical process…most things you will for sure pick up with one camera placed in front of the kicker (kick over their head), but if there is a problem with the angle of the ball, the back swing, excessive up-down movement etc you are going to need more angles to pick it up.
Once you have the video, what do you do with it? Well, it kind of depends whether you are simply trying to identify the fault OR also create a remediation plan for the ‘problem’ and then re-use the initial video as a comparison point. I guess regardless, the first thing you need to do is slow it down and do your best (or seek the assistance of an experienced coach) to identify what is going wrong and where. Like I said earlier, there is a lot going on in a kick so….but here goes.
There is no ‘right’ hand position and you will see this watching AFL footy – guys have their hands in all different spots. BUT. They are playing AFL footy and are athletically elite – they have kicked the ball literally hundreds of thousands of times and developed something that works for them. Once upon a time, a lot of juniors used to ‘split’ their hands to mimic Brendan Fevola – you know, 100 goal in a season super athlete Brendan Fevola – and it caused them all sorts of problems. Yet other kids ‘split’ their hands (one high, one low) because they started learning with a footy that was too big for them and (kids are smart) developed a strategy to ‘work around it’.
That said. A player with their hands evenly spread on the ball is in the best position to switch from left foot to right foot ‘on the run’, is best positioned to move their hands into position for a banana or screw punt…basically, for most players, holding the ball ‘evenly’ is the best way to do it and a good place to start.
Generally speaking, issues with Hand Position and ‘grip’ are best fixed by ‘hand skills’ work and simple persistence rather than kicking drills. In short, make sure the player is completing the ‘Grip Work’ drills that are part of the Hand Skills video and just continually remind them during their kicking work to ‘balance their hands’. The eternal question here is “what do I do if they are kicking 50 goals a year with a ‘funny’ ball grip?”. Well, the quick answer is “I don’t know!” There is always a balance between doing things the ‘right’ way versus doing things the right way for an individual…I guess if they were kicking 50 goals 20 points and getting it “RIGHT” most of the time, I might leave it….but if they were struggling for accuracy and missing as many as they kicked, well…
And it is questions like these that is all part of the joy of coaching.
We’ve all watched Buddy Franklin (that’s Buddy Franklin from the Perth Footy Club in case you were wondering!) run out to the left in an ‘arc’ before unleashing one from 65m out. That’s great. He’s Buddy. For most of us mortals, if you want the ball to GO STRAIGHT, well, you need to RUN STRAIGHT. One way to quickly identify this habit to ‘run in an arc’ (and players usually do that in order to get extra distance through accessing a wider ‘hip swing’ during their kicking motion – something that starts at Auskick when ‘BIG’ kicks are cheered from the sideline) is to get the players to run along a straight line when filming them. Or rather, don’t tell them to run along the line, just have the line ‘there’ so you can identify what is going on.
The “Keep your motor running” drill demonstrated on the video is great for ‘reducing the arc’ as it forces a player to work back and push off quickly as they move into their kicking motion. Whilst the ‘main’ benefit of this drill is to help players learn to get back off the mark with intent, it ALSO gets them running in straight lines into their delivery stride.
This is when the player is swinging the ball from side-to-side in their run in to kick and is frequently confused with the item to follow this (guide arm/ball drop). Some side-to-side movement of the footy is natural for most players – and in most cases doesn’t need to be corrected. Some players though have developed a real ‘swing’ from their non-kicking side to their kicking side and it really does impact the consistency of their kicking – under no pressure, it is usually fine, but add a stressor (opposition, goals, etc) and suddenly the timing is out and rather than hitting the ball ‘sweet’ the side-to-side movement causes it to hit slightly to the inside/outside of the foot – severely impacting on both distance and accuracy.
The simplest drill of all – ‘Kick to self’ is really good for remedying excessive side to side movement. You can see a demo in the video here: https://youtu.be/VkS-C7DsKRg. The side-to-side generally starts as part of the ‘run up’ – because these kicks to self are performed from a stationary start, it forces the kicker to hold the ball ‘STILL’ in order to get it to go ‘straight up’. Kick to self kicking is a really undervalued tool and one that is great for helping players gain ‘kicking co-ordination’, particularly on your ‘opposite’ foot!
The most critical element of any kick is the point of impact – and that is decided largely here. When kicking with your right foot, we want to see the ball being ‘guided’ onto the boot with the RIGHT hand. And vice versa for left foot kicks. Two handed – or even wrong handed! – ball drops are a problem as they lead to INCONSISTENT impact points. This is often reflected by ‘feast or famine’ type kicking where a player is either ‘perfect’ or ‘terrible’, often from moment to moment…and on windy days, well, forget about it!
“No-Step Kicking”. No step kicking – with a 3-second pause – is most effective here. Without stepping, the player must control the ball with ONE hand and hold it stationary for a 3-count (1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi, 3-Mississippi) before releasing to kick. This is a bit hard to describe in ‘text’ and I really would recommend you have a look at the kicking video HERE: (https://youtu.be/VkS-C7DsKRg) if you are going to do this one. This particular drill can be tricky though for developing players if the footy they are using is too big for them as they will have a tendency to ‘overcome’ their difficulties caused by the size of the footy by ‘tilting’ the ball to the side in order to balance it…make sure you don’t let them do that!!
Further, if a player can do this drill with their ‘good’ (aka natural) hand but not with their ‘opposite’ hand, it will generally be related to either fine motor skills or simple hand strength. Performing simple ‘non footy’ tasks like cleaning your teeth with your opposite hand can really help with this.
The ‘Balance Arm’ (left hand for right footers, right hand for left footers) *should* extend out from the shoulder in a ‘backwards circle’ at approximately shoulder height. If it drops too low, it can impact on your balance and cause your kick to ‘pull’ towards your ‘non-kicking leg’. If it ‘gets stuck’ forward of the body, the opposite can occur – well, the balance is still impacted (so that isn’t the opposite) BUT rather the ball will ‘push’ away from the target to the side of the ‘kicking leg’ (right footers push the ball out to the right).
No Step Kicking (for distance). The balance arm is REALLY needed if you repeat the ‘no step kick’ drill detailed above for distances of 30m and over. Without a fully extended balance arm (that is synchronised to counter balance the swing of the kicking leg!) the player will really ‘fall away’ as he strives for distance. Another ‘old school’ way to do this is to hold onto a fence (or post) as you kick to practice keeping your arm out – I have not had a lot of success with this method and I think primarily that is because the key to an effective balance arm is the MOVEMENT (it should move in a circle with the fully extended arm first moving towards the back of the body) whereas this drill (fence kicking) is based upon having a ‘static’ balance arm. Regardless of my experiences, it might work for you!!
To maximise distance and accuracy – as well as produce the ‘classic’ drop punt spin! – the toe must be ‘pointed’ at the moment of impact. Oftentimes the foot is square (players often respond best to calling it ‘floppy’ as a cue) which causes the ball to ‘loop’ up into the air without much power/velocity.
Two easy options are ‘Quick fire kicking’ or ‘Clothes Line’ kicking. For ‘Quick Fire Kicking’, set a player up with 3x footys and get them to ‘as quickly as possible’ kick them (one at a time) to a stationary team-mate located approx. 15m away. For Clothes Line kicking, each kick must be be kicked ‘under a clothes line’ (below chest height) for the duration of its flight (15m-20m). Each of these will force the player to point his/her toe HARD to create the low, fast flight path. You can find the ‘quick fire kicking’ drill in the kicking skills video I referred too earlier (it’s here: ).
You want your players to follow through after making contact with the ball. This is something you will see on the ‘side view’ of the video of their kicking – an abridged follow-through will keep the ball ‘low’ and reduce both power and distance. I understand that players will sometimes ‘stab’ at the ball to reduce distance/keep the ball flight low ‘on-purpose’ and many elite players do exactly that. For a lot of players though having a reasonably consistent follow through of between 70 degrees (foot comes through to knee height) to around 120 degrees (foot comes through to around belly button height) and controlling ‘speed’/’power’ with the velocity of the swing is the most effective method…but as players grow in experience they will become better able to judge when a full follow-through versus abridged one is required.
Completing the ‘Lob Kicks’ drill from the kicking video (https://youtu.be/VkS-C7DsKRg) is a great drill for working on the follow through. It forces the player to get some height into each kick which will encourage them to get a nice full swing through the ball.
Is that it? Well…I don’t know! In most cases getting the player in question some supervised + focussed practice performing the ‘No Step Kick’ and ‘Keep your Motor Running’ drills 2-3 times per week will be enough to trigger an improvement in kicking consistency – and remember, 2-3 lots of 10-15 minutes practice is going to be a lot more valuable in terms of getting the learning to ‘stick’ than one 45-minute session…but honestly, anything is better than nothing!
Anyway…that’s probably all for this – but remember that this issue is important to the AFL as well and they have put out a fair bit of content specific to the development of kicking skills – you can access their videos here (go down the playlist and select from the ‘Kicking (for Coaches)’ series (there is a ‘Kicking (for players)’ series of videos as well!):
See you in the gym,
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