Technique, Drills, Videos, and Tips & Tricks
Some of the following concepts are very basic, but oftentimes the errors that we make are those that we take for granted. Such errors are as simple as keeping one’s eyes back and carefully taking a 90 degree angle with our steps. To reiterate, I want the information here to be user-friendly for kickers of every level, so no stone will be left unturned. Below we will discuss Ball Tilt, Checking Your Conditions, Steps & Stance, Approach, Contact, and Follow-Through. I will also explain the following steps for our field goal approach from the point of view of a right-footed kicker, so obviously if you are left-footed, just reverse it. Here we go!
1. Ball Tilt
There is more variation in this first step than I care to think about. I’ve seen a football tilted straight-up, completely sideways, way back, way forward, and even towards the kicker. I’ve seen each of these methods be successful except the last one. You never want to tilt the football towards you.
a. Match the Angle of the Ball with Your Foot
We always want to match the angle of the ball with the angle of our foot and if the ball is angled towards us, you will more than likely pull the ball every time. Any time that we are tilting the ball away from us or backwards, we are closing off the amount of surface area of what we call the sweet spot of the ball (roughly 1/3 of the way up the ball). When kickers begin to kick off the ground, they will understand just how important it is to get as much of the sweet spot as possible. You might be able to get away with a little bit more with the ball tilted away, but the rotation of your kick will not always be ideal.
b. Straight Up
Lastly, we come to the straight-up ball tilt. This is my personal favorite and is considered by many to be the standard tilt for field goal kickers. It optimizes the sweet spot of the ball and forces us to have the proper foot and leg lock if we want to make solid contact. It also allows for better 12 to 6 ball rotation, increasing accuracy. It is also much easier for your holder to get the angle right each time as opposed to a specific tilt.
Before we mark off the spot for our holders, we must be fully aware of the conditions that exist for the kick at hand. We must know the (a) distance, (b) hash, (c) wind/weather, (d) grass durability, along with whatever reminders we need to tell ourselves regarding our own technique.
If all other conditional factors are removed, the distance should not change how we kick the ball. This holds true as long as we are kicking within our range. Our range will only be determined through practice and repetition. We will begin to understand the physical limits that we currently have until we can grow bigger and stronger. Once our range is determined, we must realize that we need to approach every kick within it the same way. In other words, we should hit a PAT the same way that we would a 45 yard field goal. Also, many of us try to kick further than our bodies will allow. As a byproduct, we may develop poor habits by trying to make a 55 yard field goal over and over again. Try to stay away from this trap. However, there is a slight grey area to this point and that is if we are just outside of our comfortable range, but are given the opportunity to attempt the long field goal. We might need to muster up a little more power and leg speed while only minimally sacrificing technique. We still need it to go down the middle, so allow your athleticism and muscle memory take over while still remembering the basics.
b. Hash & Crown
The hash marks vary according to one’s playing level. High school has the widest hashes at 53′ 4″ followed by college which has 40′ wide hashes, and finally the NFL which has hashes the same width as the uprights (18′ 6″). Needless to say, short field goals on the hash in high school can have some fairly drastic angles to deal with. So how do we approach these hard-angled kicks? We would treat them the same way that we would any other kick. My kicking coach, Chris Sailer, would always repeat over and over that “every kick is a straight kick.” This was a huge turning point for me when I was a young kicker because I hadn’t grasped that concept yet. I would try to pull kicks from the right hash or push kicks from the left so that I could get them down the middle. Now I know that I need to line up aiming right down the middle with 90 degree steps over no matter where the kick is at. One last point to discuss in this regard is the crown of the field. You’ll notice that every field has a slope going from the center to the sidelines that help with water drainage. These slopes vary depending on the field (some you won’t even notice), but they can affect where we end up in our stances in relation to the football. As an example, if we line up on the right hash of the field and we take our steps over on an uphill slant, our steps will be slightly shorter, thus landing us a few inches closer to the football when we’re in our stance. Those few inches can have drastic effects on where our ball ends up. The opposite is also true on the left hash. Our steps over on a downhill slant will cause us to be further from the football when we’re in our stance and we will more than likely pull the ball left.
c. Wind & Weather
The wind is a specialist’s worst enemy. It can cause us to change our technique and miss kicks that we normally wouldn’t miss. However, we must know how to kick in all conditions; rain, wind, snow, heat, etc. This is an area in which we can only truly learn how to kick in various conditions through practice and repetition within those particular conditions. For our home fields, we have the opportunity to understand the type of wind and weather conditions that are typical and we can better prepare ourselves. For away games, we need to make sure that we survey the field thoroughly before the game begins and make sure we try to warm up on both sides. This will give us the confidence to hit any kicks that arise throughout the game without any surprises (ditches, sprinkler heads, muddy areas, extreme slopes, etc.). There are a few rules of thumb that go with kicking in the wind. If we have a mild left-to-right crosswind, we would want to shift our aiming point a few yards to the left. The same is true for the reverse. If we have a wind in our face, we want to try and drive it slightly lower by hitting the ball slightly higher up on the sweet spot. Ultimately, practice in all weather conditions as much as possible so that you are prepared for anything on game day.
This point may not hold as much clout anymore as most football fields have now converted to field turf. However, it is still worth mentioning because we will all play on grass at some point in our careers. It is important to know what the field conditions will be like before we get there. Certain fields are softer than others and it can be difficult to gain traction with our plant foot, especially after/during some wet weather. Many kickers, including myself, use a football cleat on their plant foot because they tend to have longer spikes, thus providing better traction. If anyone has ever pulled a Charlie Brown on a muddy field, you probably remember being extra careful on your next kick. One common solution in wet or muddy situations, besides better plant-foot cleats, is to take narrower steps over. This will lessen the angle to which we approach the ball and reduce the likelihood that we will slip. If you choose to do this, make sure you account for how much closer to the ball you are now having smaller steps.
3. Steps & Stance
Field goal steps are arguably the most important factor in our technical repertoire. They are also the most overlooked. We can do everything right in our entire field goal approach, but if our steps are lazy and inconsistent, we are going to have a heck of a time being accurate. Kickers will undoubtedly develop different steps throughout their careers, but for the most part, the most common steps are 3 steps back, 2 steps over. One thing that we need to make sure that we do is start our steps back from the same spot every time. This way, when we take our steps we are more likely to end up in the same spot every time. We then take our 3 steps back and use our kicking foot to draw an imaginary line from our toe to the ball and then to the middle of the uprights. We bring both feet together and in a controlled manner, we take our 2 steps over at a perfect 90 degrees. Never take this part for granted as an 85 or 95 degree angle can mean the difference between a 5-10 foot ball flight to the right or left.
Once we have completed our steps, it is recommended to look up at the uprights so we can visualize our target and adjust our body accordingly. We want to make sure that our plant foot is pointed in the direction of where we want it to end up. My kicking coach would always reiterate, “plant foot-to-plant foot” referring to the desired direction of our approach. Our stance should be athletic and comfortable. If somebody were to give you a slight shove, you should be able to keep your balance. We then return our eyes to the spot that our holder has marked off. Some kickers like to look at the snapper to see the ball snapped, but I would recommend against it. It is an unnecessary movement that we can eliminate from the get-go.
A useful rule of thumb as to when we should begin our approach to the ball is as soon as the holder lifts his finger from the ground. A solid get-off time for field goals is right around 1.30 seconds. When kickers start thinking about speeding up their get-off times, they tend to speed up their approach. This is a costly error because it can cause our bodies to end up in a different spot each time. Our consistency and accuracy as kickers are strongly dependent upon a consistent approach. With that said, instead of speeding up our approach, we simply must start it a fraction sooner.
b. The Triangle
Before we take our first step however, we need to check our lines. Using our 3 steps back, 2 steps over, and the line from our “plant-foot to plant-foot,” we create a right-triangle that serves as an excellent guide for our approach. We never want to step inside our “triangle” as this would place us behind the football and we would end up fighting with our body to get back to our plant foot. This can cause our hips to come through too early, eyes to release too soon, among many other factors that can be detrimental to our accuracy. The opposite is true if we step too far outside our triangle, we will be fighting back to get to our plant-foot destination. Bottom line, maintain your approach down the hypotenuse of your right triangle, minimizing the number of movements, and ultimately increasing our accuracy.
Now that we have our proper lines configured, we square to the ball, keep our eyes back, and we begin our approach. Just like steps and stance, field goal approaches come in many shapes and sizes. The most common approach however consists of a slight jab with the plant-foot, step with kicking foot, plant with plant-foot, and then swing through the ball. Some other approaches get rid of the jab and simply do a right, left, kick. Customizing your steps, stance, and approach will happen over a long period of time as you experiment with different styles.
I have seen many different combinations be successful so it is difficult to suggest what would work best for everyone. However, I can share what has worked best for me. I personally like the idea of a jab, but without moving towards the ball. What I mean by this is that you simply lift your plant foot up and place it right back down in the same spot. Big jabs that move you forward can create inconsistency as the jab length can vary in more adrenaline-packed situations. Jabs can serve as a very useful timing mechanism however. It also can act as a safeguard in case of a bad snap that we can use to readjust our bodies and still pull off the kick. A jab also creates momentum into our approach which can increase power even if no forward progress is made with it.
After we have taken our jab (or begun a two-step approach) down the line of our “triangle”, we take our next step with our kicking foot. If you remember from above, we do not want to stray inside or outside of our triangle as it can cause inconsistency. On this step we also do not want to be flat-footed; we want to be on the balls of our feet (or up on our toes). We then spring into our plant-foot, making sure to keep our eyes back on the sweet spot of the ball.
Once we have landed, our plant-foot should be pointing in the direction of our target. The depth of your plant-foot will vary depending on the size of tee that you are using as well as your experience. As we continue to evolve into better, more experienced kickers, our plant-foot depth naturally deepens. At the point in which our plant-foot lands besides the football, our kicking leg should be in full extension of its back-swing with our ankles locked and beginning its descent. From this point, we want to try and duplicate the bench drill (details on Field Goal Drills). We focus on keeping our eyes back on the sweet spot of the ball, counter-arm high, the hip of our kicking leg back, chest up, and ankle & knee locked out. We do not want a flimsy ankle at contact because we lose both accuracy and power.
The momentum of our follow-through should take our kicking leg up and through our line. What this means is that our leg swing will naturally swing back up like a pendulum. However, we must be able to release all of the energy that we created with our approach by using our momentum to skip-step with our plant-foot. If you do not know what I mean by “skip-step,” watch the footage on “Field Goal Videos” and pay attention to the plant-foot after the kick. A skip-step should take a sort of ‘hop’ to the side to counter the angle that we approach the ball. Kickers that have very narrow approaches do not have as drastic of an angle on their skip-step; and vice versa.
All the way through our follow-through, we must keep our eyes back. I was always told that after I kick the ball, I should let the crowd tell me if it is good or not as I should still be looking back at the spot of the ball. If you are going to practice anything with exaggeration, it should be this. Keeping our eyes back not only allows you to see your target, but it forces you to keep your hips back and keep everything else in good alignment. After our skip-step has landed and ball is well underway, we can begin to look up. As our leg comes back down, our body should be square to our target. We then get to watch the fruits of our labor as the ball sails through the uprights. Don’t forget to slap hands with your 10 other teammates that helped make it happen.