How to Kickoff

Technique, Drills, Videos, and Tips & Tricks

Foreword

When comparing kickoffs (KO’s) to field goals, there are many similarities, but also some crucial differences. We mainly see these differences with our approach and our follow-through. We discuss both of these, and more, in detail below.

1. Steps

Kickoff steps are the most important factor on kickoffs. If we do not trust our steps, we will only produce timid results. Kickoff steps are different than field goal steps in that we are often much further back and there are countless variations of where our stance may lie. Some kickers use their field goal steps (3 back, 2 over) for their game-time kickoffs while others might be 12 yards back and 6 steps over. As long as it is consistent, any combination of steps can be successful. Finding your personal kickoff steps, however, can be a tedious process that will take much trial and error before you can settle on them.

a. Finding Your Steps

One effective way to find your steps is using what we will refer to as the “reverse approach” (you will need a partner for this). With this technique we start with our plant-foot next to our Kickoff tee where we eventually want our plant-foot to land during our actual approach. From this point, we begin our approach backwards using the “stick-shift” method (see section 2 below). When we reach full speed, we go ahead and do a “dry kickoff” (description under Kickoff Drills) and our partner marks off the spot where our plant-foot heel landed using a piece of tape. We do this same routine one more time and our partner marks off the spot again. If the two pieces of tape are fairly near one another, take the average of the two. If the two spots are too far from one another (more than a foot or two away) do a third round and try to find your average landing spot. Once we have our relative spot, we use this point to start from. Now facing the ball from here, go ahead and test out your full steps. If you’re too close or too far from the ball, make the necessary adjustments. Once you have refined this spot, step it off so that you have a calculated way to find your steps every time.

2. Approach

a. The Stick-Shift

One of the best metaphors for what one’s kickoff approach should resemble is that of a stick-shift car. Using this “stick-shift” method, we shift from one gear to the next reaching full speed by the time we reach the football. With kickoffs, one of the more consistent and common approaches is to walk the first few steps, working into and jog, and then finally into a full sprint by your last step. An example of this can be seen on our Kickoff Videos page.

b. Avoid the Stutter

Often in high school, and even sometimes in college, we see kickers approach their kickoffs and incorporate the infamous stutter-steps. As soon as I see that stutter-step approach, I immediately think “uh oh!” and watch the aftermath ensue. It sometimes happens when our adrenaline gets the best of us where we might step forward with the wrong foot or maybe even over-stride. Some kickers even stutter-step by design on every kickoff. I would recommend against this. The stutter-step is our attempt to reposition ourselves once we realize that our routine is off. It is very difficult to consistently stutter-step on a kickoff and have our plant-foot end up in the same spot each kick. This is why it is very important to have a smooth, consistent approach so that we can let loose on the ball knowing that we are in the right position to do so. If we have found the right steps for our kickoff (i.e. via “reverse approach”) then we should never need to stutter-step during our approach.

c. The Triangle

Another common mistake that young kickers commit is to “bubble out” when approaching the ball. This is when kickers step way outside and continue their approach along a curved line to the ball. In the field goal technique section, we discussed creating a right triangle with our steps. We create the same right triangle when we do our kickoff steps. It is important to visualize our line from our plant-foot to plant-foot (the hypotenuse of our right-triangle) because that is our guideline to approaching the ball in the most consistent and effective manner. We want to avoid stepping outside of our triangle (bubbling out) and we also want to avoid stepping inside this triangle.

At this point, we should have custom steps, be able to walk off those steps accurately & consistently, and have a smooth, controlled approach that brings us to full speed by the time we reach the football.

3. Contact

a. Shallower Plant Foot

At the point of contact, kickoffs are very similar to field goals as far as body position goes. One key difference is the depth of our plant foot. Depending on the size tee that we use for field goals, this point will vary. If we kick field goals and kickoffs both off of a 1 inch tee, there will not be too much difference. However, if we kick field goals off the ground and kickoffs on a 1 inch, our plant foot on kickoffs will need to be significantly shallower than our field goal plant. The main reason for this is simply because the ball is propped up higher. Kickers that have a very deep plant foot on field goals sometime have a tendency to undercut their kickoffs because they have not made the proper adjustments.

b. Return of the Bench Drill

As for body position, we want to treat this like the “bench drill.” Even though we are sprinting towards a fixed object, about to channel all of our strength and momentum into one point, we still need to remember the basics. We must still see our target by keeping our eyes back on the sweet spot, have proper leg lock at contact, hips back, and chest up.

c. Point of Contact

Just as with field goals, we are aiming to have our ankle, knee, and toe locked out at the point of contact. We are aiming to strike the sweet spot of the ball with our cuneiform bone (just below the ankle bone).

4. Follow-Through

a. The Hurdle

After striking the football, we must use our momentum to get up and over an imaginary hurdle that is place in front of our tee. Our follow-through on kickoffs is very different than that of our field goals. We do not skip-step with our plant-foot. We are creating significantly more momentum and energy with our kickoff approach and we must have an outlet for it after we kick the ball. This is where the hurdle comes in and helps us release that energy. If you watch an experienced kicker do a kickoff in slow-motion, you will see that their body almost becomes horizontal in the air. The more violent the kickoff, the more horizontal you will be. Finally, we will be landing on our kicking foot instead of our plant-foot. Our momentum will cause us to sort of ‘scissor’ in mid-air and position our bodies to land on our kicking foot. After we land, we can look up and watch our ball sail down the field.