Brendon Goddard kicks the ball forward.

The Impact of Good Kicking

The key to being able to kick well is to have a sound basic technique. While every player’s kicking technique may be different and each player will develop a natural kicking style that feels comfortable to them, there are some critical actions that should be consistent across all players.

Starting point – impact

Australian Football kicking experts agree that the best place to start when teaching kicking is at the point of impact.

Impact refers to the point when the player’s foot makes contact with the ball. If a coach has identified that a player’s kicking is flawed due to the ball not spinning backwards or having a poor flight pattern, then the first point of the kick to examine is the point of impact.

The coach should work backwards to evaluate other possible causes of the flaw. With every kicking technique and every kicking situation in a match being different, a focus on such things as grip, approach, leg swing and follow-through is not as critical as what happens at impact.

Players will learn to adapt these elements of kicking to the game situation they find themselves in. Some kicking situations in a match may mean the player does not have time to grip the ball normally, has to kick off one step, or has to produce a low flat kick that results in little follow-through. However, one thing that doesn’t change with kicking technique, regardless of the environment or pressure on the player, is impact.

A player’s ability to make strong, precise impact with the ball will ultimately decide if the kick reaches its intended target.

Critical learning points

To ensure a player’s impact is effective, there are three critical learning points that they must follow.

1. Control of the ball onto the foot

  • A player must be able to control the ball into the impact zone and on to their foot, striking the bottom third of the ball, to make it spin backwards (for a drop punt).
  • The first priority when a player is learning how to kick is teaching them to make the ball spin backwards. Once the player gains confidence and an understanding of what it feels like to get the ball to spin backwards, they can move on to other elements of the kick.
  • Ideally, the player guides the ball down with the guiding hand, releasing it as the kicking foot leaves the ground, giving them time to generate power. It is released from around hip level, with the guiding arm and hand controlling the path and orientation of the ball. The aim is to place the ball consistently in the individual’s preferred position. During this process, the non-guiding hand comes off the front of the ball and swings up and back in an arc.

2. Acceleration of the lower leg

  • To kick the ball with penetration and distance, a player must generate a high level of lower leg speed. Lower leg speed is generated through a number of elements, including taking a steadying and long last stride and trailing the kicking foot behind them. At this point, a player drives their kicking foot forward in an explosive action to make contact with the ball. A large wind-up is not needed to create an accelerated lower-leg action; however, a quick knee extension is required.
  • The kicking action is a very natural movement, as the thigh will decelerate to allow the lower leg to accelerate around the knee joint, so there is no need for coaches to be concerned with this sequence of movements.
  • The follow-through of a kick is not of great consequence to its effectiveness – it is a part of the kicking action that flows naturally from the actions made prior to impact.

3. Firm foot

  • A firm foot refers to the player’s foot at impact. For efficient impact, the player’s foot and ankle must be fully extended, so, when the foot makes contact, it presents the hardest and most stable platform.
  • Contact with the foot should be around the top of the laces. Contact any further down the foot will involve a less stable platform and less efficient
    contact, and may also result in damage to the foot if consistently repeated.
  • English rugby union fly half Jonny Wilkinson, who is renowned for his accurate penalty kicking, believes a firm foot is essential when kicking. In order to visualise a firm foot, he taps his foot on the ground and presses the studs of his right boot on to 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 kick the ball.
  • Another example of this is when you punch a heavy bag. You would not strike a punching bag with a weak or sloppy wrist as it would be ineffective. Kicking a football is very similar – you need to punch the ball with a firm foot for it to be effective.

Look , feel and sound

The outcome of the kick is critical, and the way the kick looks, feels and sounds to a player is important in their learning process, as it provides vital information about their kicking action and possible improvements. There are two aspects of what a good kick should look like. The first relates to the flight of the ball. A quality kick will always spin backwards and stay vertical, ensuring the ball’s flight path remains consistent. A backward-spinning ball won’t always ensure the kick goes straight but it will go further and its flight path will be predictable.

Often a player’s kicking action, where their kicking leg is swung around the body, will cause the ball to drift right to left for a right-footer and left to right for a left-footer.

This is natural and should not be tampered with as long as the player’s kicking is effective and they understand the way their kick will move in the air. However, players with a straight leg swing may find it easier to consistently reproduce effective impact.

The second aspect of ‘look’ relates to the kicking action and what a good kick looks like. Players should be encouraged to visualise an effective kicking action and, at various stages in the learning process, beencouraged to ‘see’ the appropriate
grip, run-up, the height at which the ball is dropped and other elements.

Another important sensory factor of kicking is the ‘feel’ of the kicking action. Players should be encouraged to feel the tension and stretch in various muscles throughout the kicking action. For example, at the point of lower leg acceleration,
players should feel the tension in the muscles around their thigh.

At the point of impact, the ball should feel light on the foot. The foot should be firm and absorb little shock. It shouldn’t feel like you’ve had to kick the ball hard. Feel is extremely important when kicking and players should feel like they have middled the ball at all times. A firm foot will create a greater sweet spot and players should remember what it feels like to middle the ball and get it to spin backwards rapidly, trying to reproduce that feel every time they kick.

The sound at the point of impact should be like a thud rather than a slap. Players should be encouraged to listen for the sound on each kick and learn to associate the appropriate sound with good contact with the foot. This information can assist in evaluating the effectiveness of the kick and making any necessary modifications for the next kick.

How the kick looks, feels and sounds are inherent characteristics of the kicking action. They are important learning tools as they allow a player to practise on their own, as look, sound and feel provide immediate feedback. It is important players
understand all of these characteristics.

It is the coach’s responsibility to draw the player’s attention to these characteristics, especially in evaluating the quality of the kicking action.

Model kicks

Players can emulate AFL stars who are good kicks such as Lindsay Gilbee, Alan Didak, Daniel Rich, Trent Cotchin and Aaron Davey. While these players all have slightly different kicking techniques, the critical elements of kicking – controlling the ball onto the foot, lower leg acceleration and a firm foot at impact – are clearly apparent when watching all these players. Observing good players kicking is a great way to learn.

Keeping it Simple

The greatest golfer in the world today, Tiger Woods, and former Western Bulldogs great Chris Grant agree sportspeople should not obsess about technique.

Tiger Woods in Fortune (Asia Edition), July 6, 2009

  • “When I was young, maybe six or seven years old, I’d play on the Navy golf course with my pop. My dad would say, ”OK where do you want to hit the ball?” I’d pick a spot and say I want to hit it there. He’d shrug and say, “Fine then figure out how to do it.” He didn’t position my arm, adjust my feet, or change my thinking. He just said go ahead and hit the darn ball. My dad’s advice to me was to simplify. Even today, when I’m struggling with my game, I can still hear him say, “Pick a spot and just hit it.”

Chris Grant talking to Mike Sheahan in Herald Sun, May 22, 2010

  • Grant said “experts” often complicate things by altering a player’s grip, how high or low he holds the ball, whether the ball is in the right line vertically, and the player’s arc as he runs in. He said a player is better off using his natural technique and kicking to a target behind the goals.

This article is part of the AFL’s Ultimate Kicking Guide which is currently being developed by a working party made up of AFL kicking specialists.  It is also available in Coaching Edge - June 2010.

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