Kicking is 90% mental. Control your mind. Control your game.
Why Train Your Mind?
While some say that kicking is 90% mental, one could argue that it is even more than that. As specialists, we kick, punt, and snap over and over and OVER again until it has become engrained into our muscle memory. So why is it that we still allow ourselves to buckle under pressure? The most common reason is that we are not prepared. I do not mean that we have not kicked enough balls or lifted enough weight, but that we have not built enough mental muscle. I have learned many things over my career regarding the mental aspect of the game that I only wish I would have known earlier.
Once you reach a certain competitive level of any sport, everyone you’re surrounded with was the best athlete in their town or region. Certain physical abilities like a 50-yard field goal range is not only common, but will be expected of you.
In this environment, mental performance is the only edge.
How Do We Perform At Our Mental Peak?
Like golf, kicking and punting puts a spotlight on you when you’re trying to perform your task. Nothing will stop even the most seasoned of veterans from experiencing a surge of adrenaline when they jog out onto that field. The fans are screaming, your heart starts racing, palms start sweating, the defense is salivating to block your attempt, and you have 1 – 2 seconds to execute your job. If this athlete does not know how to control or channel this adrenaline surge, your chances of performing at your peak are slim to none.
This one is extremely simple, but often overlooked. When adrenaline starts making our heart race, our body is entering a fight or flight mode, pumping blood to the entire body to prepare for battle. We need to remind our brain and body that we are not under attack, and that our perception of our external environment is not as scary as it seems. Taking a fixed number of deep breaths will bring our attention and awareness to our body. It will begin to regulate our blood flow and our heart will begin to slow down once again. A moderate level of mental arousal, or a heightened state, is actually good for performance. We just need to ensure it is the right balance for the task we are performing.
Additional Link(s): Master Your Breathing to Perform Better
The term “Mental Reps” is another way of saying to visualize the exact flow of events that will take place during your task. This doesn’t just mean to visualize kicking the ball. This means you need to recreate every single possible detail that you that will take place during your kick or punt – how loud the stadium is, what are the wind conditions like, what do the defenders’ faces look like, who is your holder, who is your snapper, is your heart fluttering, what tee are you using, which sideline are you coming from, what is the down, distance, and hashmark. You get the idea.
The more specific you can be, the less surprises that will show up when you’re actually going out for the kick. Also, just like physical reps, the more mental reps you do, the stronger your mind will become. The best part is that you can do these anywhere!
Another defense against letting your emotions get the best of your out on the field is to have a very specific process. I sometimes refer to this as a checklist since it creates a better visual. Since every kick follows the same routine, this technique is easy to perform, but we just have to be mindful of it once we cross over the sideline onto the field.
The concept is simple: break your pre-kick process down into a handful of actionable steps and visualize checking them off your list as you perform them.
Example for field goals:
- Mark your spot for your holder – check
- Look up to the middle of the crossbar – check
- 3 steps back – check
- 2 steps over – check
- Bring feet together – check
- Take a deep breath and look up at your target – check
- Finalize your stance – check
- Jab. Right. Left. Kick!
The purpose here is to use your checklist not only as a technique reminder, but to tune out your external environment. When you have your own inner “chatter”, the crowd noise or the circumstance of the game tend to fade away. Be creative and come up with your own self-talk. I promise you, it will bring you one step closer to peak performance.
What Mental Training Books or Other Resources Can I Turn To?
Below is an ever-growing list of resources that I have either used personally or have some concept to its efficacy.
The Mind Gym
One book that had a profound impact on my performance later in my career was called “Mind Gym.” This book is nicely structured and geared specifically to building an athlete’s mental muscle. This book will also be the basis for some of the mental training advice that will be provided here. It is never too early to begin working on mental training no matter what position, or even sport, that you play.
Every Shot Must Have a Purpose
This book taught me a whole new outlook on how to mentally prepare myself as a kicker. It talks about a golfer’s ability to hit a 54 (birdie on every hole) and that it is more than possible with the right approach to practice and giving every shot/kick a purpose. Even though the book is about golfing, every concept in there can be perfectly translated to a football specialist’s situation and mindset.