Of the many technical elements required in the development of a sound place kicking technique, is an engaged non-kicking balance arm. Although difficult to coach, evidence suggests that players that are able to use theirs display more balance and stability at heel strike, thus increasing their chances of clean contact through the ball. We are, of course, referring to the arm that is on the side of the support foot during the execution of the kick. The action of the arm on the non-kicking side is often overlooked as many coaches aren’t aware of its importance in effective kicking from the tee. Actually, Kicking in general!
In the final stride, the kicking leg is positioned behind the body in preparation of the forward leg drive. This leg position may unbalance the body if counterbalancing movements are not made with another part of the player’s body. If the support foot is the GPS (as I have been quoted before) setting the direction and coordinates, then the Non-Kicking Arm is definitely the Rudder in assisting to keep things steady and on course.
So what does all this mean?
Basically, the Balance Arm performs many functions that assist the maintenance of the body in correct position through the forward leg swing to impact. A technically well engaged non-kicking arm will, during the final stride, display a high arcing motion up and back over the shoulder. Its role, essentially, is to provide balance and stability from the transition of “preparatory” phase to “execution” stage of the kick. The ‘Up & Away” part of the action prevents sideways motion while the “Back and Over the Shoulder” part of the action will work against any rotational movement of that side of the body. A non-kicking arm doing its job will prevent counter-rotation of the shoulders, most commonly diagnosed as a player “falling away” during the kick. Intervention from both player or coach should be careful as the action of the non-kicking arm is automatic and not easily coached with extrinsic instruction.
I will, at this point, inform you that fine tuning this element, even the smallest improvement in engagement, will deliver noticeable results at the tee. I will qualify this information by also informing you that players that don’t get full engagement aren’t necessarily poor kickers.
Have a look at any rugby match video you have in your library and you will see various levels of non-kicking arm engagement.
I am here to tell you that generally the most reliable kickers will have this area covered. It is all but impossible to shoot from great distance, or with any control over the outcome without the necessary balance this brings.
So what can you do?
I have already stated the coaching of this, although very rewarding is challenging at best. So, with that, I am reluctant to deliver a ‘how to’ instructional article on the subject as it is a process of awareness and development that takes time. No quick fix, as such.
The good news is the non-kicking arm hasn’t finished its job at kick impact. It is required to keep working throughout execution and into the follow through phase.
If you imagine, the kick is such an explosive action with much force delivered from the body through the ball. Take your focus to the forces from the kicking leg and you begin to appreciate the need for a part of the body to counter the forces across the player’s body. It is here that the non-kicking arm should continue to “sweep” across the kicker at impact. This action provides the much needed counter to the forces from the kick, allow for a stable non-kicking side and effectively assists in “channeling” the energy from the kick to target (or where the GPS has been programmed!).
I have observed many players, who aware of the importance of a sweeping arm, who merely drift it across the body at impact. It is critical that to provide important counter forces that the SHOULDER must deliver the work. For me the arm is just a by-product of getting the shoulder into the action. The introduction, or improvement in the action of the shoulder, may also help prevent a player’s hips from “squaring up” too early in the process.
So, prescribe only when necessary!
I am very much a believer in player centred coaching and what many term a guided discovery process with my coaching. So it is with careful thought I prescribe instruction to my kickers, and so should you. There is enough information running around in their mind without having to contend with over coaching! If you feel from reading this article, that you or a player you coach may need some work on this then I may offer the following:
Perhaps create a mini place kicking activity or breakdown where you can work on their awareness of the shoulder’s importance in isolation. A suggestion is to have them imagine a Doorway and “Having to get their shoulder through the door first”.
Essentially we want them to more than lead with that shoulder, but to engage it. You can also have your players actively “thrust” it across at the point of contact or “Fight to get your shoulder through the door”. For many of my players that I coach, the door concept is an internal cue in their routine. We must value the duty of care we have with our players, so improving their kicking will not only come from your calculated instruction, but from your decision when not speak.
Observe and correct only when absolutely required of you. And be aware of the relationship to other critical elements in the process. This article has been written as a technical reference for you, not necessarily an instruction on how to coach. As always, information is only that, we must as coaches be excellent at facilitating an environment that allows for transfer of that knowledge to improved performance. After all, that’s what coaching is, right?