Australian football is continually evolving and now more than ever, keeping possession of the ball when kicking is crucial.
Basic kicking mechanics
The key to being able to kick the football well is to have a sound technique. While every player's kicking technique may differ slightly, the fundamentals remain the same.
Starting point - IMPACT
In previous years the starting point for teaching kicking was through the staged approach of grip, run up and ball drop. With major changes taking place in Australian Football today, kicking experts agreed that the best place to start when teaching kicking is to actually start at the end. This leads us to ‘impact’.
The term ‘impact’ refers to the point in which the player’s foot makes contact with the ball. This is 'the most critical point of the kicking phase. This point that will provide players with a clear understanding if they have a sound kicking technique.
With every kicking technique and every kicking situation in a match different, the emphasis on grip, approach, leg swing and follow through is not as critical. Players will learn to adapt these stages of kicking to the situation they may find themselves in.
Some kicking situations in a match will mean the player may not have time to grip the ball normally, may have to kick off one step or may have to kick a low flat ball that requires little follow through. However one thing that doesn’t change in relation to kicking technique regardless of the environment/pressure the player may find themselves under is ‘impact’. The player’s ability to make strong, accurate impact with the ball will ultimately decide if the kick reaches its intended target.
To ensure impact is correct here are three non-negotiables that all players must follow to ensure effective impact.
i. Control of the ball onto the foot
A player’s ability to control the ball onto their foot and subsquently into the impact zone, must be correct for the outcome of the kick to be effective.
The player must guide the ball down with the guiding hand cradling the ball and with the release point being at the time the kicking foot leaves the ground, thereby giving the player time to generate power to kick the ball. The ball is released from hip level having had the guiding hand controlling the path and orientation of the ball.
During this process the non-guiding hand comes off the front of the ball and swings up and back in an arc.
The most important component of this non negotiable is that the ball is vertical, which will allow the player to kick the bottom third of the ball, which will cause the ball to spin backwards.
ii. Acceleration of the lower leg
To kick the ball with penetration and distance, players must generate a high level of lower leg speed.
Lower leg speed is generated by a player's ability to take a steadying and long last stride, and take their kicking foot back behind them. At this point a player should swing their foot forward in an ‘explosive’ action to make contact with the ball. Players don’t need to have a large ‘wind up’ to create an accelerated lower leg movement; however it does require a quick knee extension.
The kicking action is a very natural movement, as the thigh will actually de-accelerate to allow the lower leg to take over and accelerate around the knee joint. Hence, there is no need for coaches to interfere with this sequence of movements.
iii. Firm foot
A firm foot refers to the player's foot at the impact point. For efficient impact the player’s foot must be firm (with ankle fully extended) so that when the foot makes contact with the ball, it presents the hardest and most stable platform possible.
It is essential the ball is impacted at the ankle joint and in particular the ‘hump’ of the foot. Contact further down the foot on the slender foot bones will involve a less stable platform, less efficient contact and may also result in damage to the foot if regularly repeated.
Johnny Wilkinson of England Rugby Union fame believes a hard foot is essential when kicking for goal. In order to visualise a the hard foot necessary to kick the ball, he will tap is foot on the ground and presses the studs of his right boot onto the hard platform of the left foot just to remind himself of the correct part of the foot that he is about to use to impact the ball.
‘Look, feel and sound’
An effective kick is measured by it's outcome. The way the kick looks, feels and sounds to a player is very important.
A quality drop punt kick should always spin backwards in a vertical plane. This will ensure the ball's flight path will remain consistent. A backward spinning ball won’t always ensure the ball goes straight, but if the ball is spinning backwards it will go further and its flight path will be predictable.
If the ball is spinning backwards but moving left to right, it can be traced back to the impact point and impact line. For a right foot kick, a ball that moves left to right in the air will be due to the player impacting the ball very slightly on the bottom, outside part of the ball. For a right foot kick, a ball that moves right to left, which is more common, will have seen the player make contact with the ball on the bottom, inside of the ball. The reason a player may make contact more often with the inside or outside bottom of the ball may be due to the direction of the ball drop or the direction of their lower leg swing.
If the kick has been completed correctly the ball should feel light on the foot. The foot should be firm and not absorb any shock. The kick shouldn’t feel like you’ve had to kick it hard. The impact should make a ‘thud’ sound rather than a slapping sound. Feel is extremely important when kicking the ball and players should remember what a good kick feels like and should try to emulate that every time they kick.