As the saying goes in just about any sport (or task for that matter), athletes can be their own worst enemies when it comes to performance.
Like many other individual skilled movements (tennis player serves, baseball pitchers, etc), kicking is a very specific movement that almost seem to ‘come and go’ at will it seems. For many kickers, the problem is often between the ears. The great, effortless flow that was present last week with a kicker or punter can suddenly seem to vanish almost instantly.
Once a kicker feels this phenomenon in play, it’s tough to self correct on the spot. The great kickers can shake it off quickly and get back to business as usual. However, for many, one or two misses can cause a domino effect if even for a short time. This is both the joy and pain of athletics…balancing what you know you can do with what you may be feeling at any moment in time when it may not be going well….it’s all a matter of developing and maintaining confidence.
The field goal kicker faces confidence challenges in a regular fashion, though he is not alone. As I mentioned above, baseball pitchers are FAMOUS for losing confidence (not kicking confidence, but pitching confidence)…sometimes within a matter of pitches! If the pitcher feels okay, it could be the hitter who is in a ‘slump’.
See, when it comes to kicking a football, we are all looking to kick ‘like a robot’. In athletics, this phenomenon is known as ‘muscle memory’.
Another way to think about it? Our brains operate on cruise control. That is, we don’t actually have to think about what we are doing because we’ve done something SO much….we can perform the task blindfolded.
I see this concept play out regularly with my private kicking students. With drill work comes a change in focus for a set of kicks. Perhaps the focus is on the movement of one particular arm to maximize leverage, generate torque.
Typically, while a student’s absolute focus is on that one piece of the swing, something else can suffer during the drill. Most often, I see that foot contact is off for instance and the rotation becomes a bit messy temporarily. Too much of this effect at any one time and a kicking student can begin to lose confidence during a set.
So, I’ll shift to what I call ‘brainless kicking’ for the next set. I’ll pull live holds, tell the kicker to think about ‘nothing’ for a few kicks….just KICK THE BALL. More often than not, I see an instant turn around with the very next set….really is interesting to watch. Though they were tweaking one part of the swing temporarily, when focus on that one thing is removed again, we are back to muscle memory….brainless kicking.
Sometimes, this muscle memory can actually be a bad thing. For instance, practicing the WRONG way over and over can lead to serious confidence issues when a kicker actually has to perform in front of a crowd, or kick an otherwise ‘important’ kick.
For instance, when we kick poorly all week before a big game, (perhaps distracted by school, or something personal, etc, just not focused or energized) we no longer rely on muscle memory in the game….we don’t trust it in that short term moment.
In my experience (and I’ve been there as have many others), that is a deadly scenario. Ideally, game time should be brainless….that’s what all the practice is for. But when we are thinking while kicking, it’s sometimes too late. We end up kicking tentatively, shortening our follow through, leaving our hips short of full rotation, any number of things that begin to unravel when we are focusing on some part of the swing rather than the whole on auto pilot.
Kicking Confidence; Do Without Thinking!
When our muscles don’t know ‘exactly’ what to do, our brain steps in with last minute suggestions.
The result is obvious….no confidence when we need it MOST! Our muscles don’t know what ‘right’ feels like so the brain steps in and sometimes takes guesses to fill in the gaps. We have no kicking confidence!
Sounds crazy I know, but think about this for a second. If I asked you to tie your shoe, would you be nervous about this simple task? Would you begin thinking to yourself, “don’t mess this up, whatever you do, don’t miss the second loop!”
I’m guessing your brain wouldn’t think ANYTHING while you were tying that shoe. Why?
Assuming you’ve tied your shoes correctly hundreds, if not thousands of times, you are absolutely confident that you’ll get it right once again….you are CONFIDENT! You simply don’t question your ability, you KNOW without actually thinking about it, that you will tie your shoe correctly even if it means the fate of the world hangs in the balance.
For more on breaking down the field goal kick (and increasing kicking confidence) step by step or to get some quick field goal kicking tips, check out some other blog posts on this site or sign up to be notified to become an FGK member soon!