Kickers sometimes live alone on a football field.
They often practice away from their teammates, working on skills not associated with other positions.
A kicker’s path to success – just like the rest of the team – centers on hard work and dedication, traits familiar to everyone who has worn a helmet.
Successful kicking is about quality, not quantity, according to U.S. National Team Trials kicking instructor Dan Orner of Charlotte, N.C.
Practicing over and over may strengthen leg muscles, but it also can reinforce bad habits, Orner said. That’s why it is important to take it slow and get the fundamentals down first.
“To master your craft, it’s not about the number of balls you kick,” Orner said. “It’s about kicking with a purpose.”
Orner recently worked with 20 kickers and punters at the U.S. National Team Trials in Marietta, Ga.Athletes spent three days in the Atlanta suburb with dual goals of improving their craft and trying out for Team USA.
Kickers worked both independently and as part of drills – with coaches setting the same expectations for every participant.
Blake Brewer of Concord, N.C., enjoyed the interaction and expectations placed on kickers. While in Marietta, he worked on slowing his pace on kickoffs and better locating the spot on the ball where his foot strikes.
Brewer found tips and techniques from Orner and also from his fellow kickers. A healthy competition fostered camaraderie and opportunities to learn.
“The talent (in Marietta) was higher than most places I’ve been,” Brewer said. “I picked up a lot of things from other people. It was a great overall learning experience.”
Kicking is a blend of physical and mental approaches, Orner said. The physical part isn’t predicated on height, weight or pure strength, though. It’s about mechanics.
“Kicking a football is similar to swinging a golf club,” he said. “You don’t need to be the biggest specimen in the world to do either well. You see guys who are 5-foot-7 or 5-8 on the tee box just go up and destroy a golf ball. It’s the same way in kicking if you do it right.”
Will O’Briant of Asheboro, N.C., used his three days in Georgia to improve his mental game.
It’s difficult to simulate game situations but by building a routine, O’Briant said he can take the same approach from the practice field to the pressure of game days.
“It’s about forgetting everything else that’s going on,” O’Briant said. “No matter what I’m doing, I imagine that I’m at practice, lined up like I’ve done so many times. You can’t get stressed and don’t think about anything else.”
Part of that mental approach is having a short memory, Orner said. Like quarterbacks who throw interceptions or cornerbacks who get beat for touchdowns, kickers have to put bad attempts behind them.
“You may miss a few kicks, but if you make the last one that’s what everyone will remember,” Orner said. “If you are kicking to not miss, you will miss. You have to be OK to fail. Kickers don’t get 25 throws a game like quarterbacks or 20 runs a game like running backs. You may miss your only kick of the day, but you need to be ready to come back at any point mentally prepared.”
Orner teaches kickers to learn from other positions.
Quarterbacks audible after coming to the line – just as kickers need to adjust on the fly for wind and field conditions or if the opposition is lining up for a block versus staying back to set up a return.
Running backs look for holes before exploding through them – just as kickers stay patient before exploding through the ball.
It’s the life of a kicker.
“It’s a rare opportunity when kickers get to go on the field, but once they do they are the focus of everyone’s attention the moment they walk onto the field,” Orner said. “Good or bad, keep an even keel. You are going to miss sometimes. You are human. But if you know why you miss and make the corrections, you will improve.”