Archives For Place Kicking

One of my coaching aims this year has been to produce and share more content with players and coaches working at all levels of the rugby community.

So, a little update for you is that I am currently working on producing a Rugby Goal Kicking Course, that will provide you a solid coaching framework to *Assess, *Practice, *Review and *Improve…..

Get Access To The FREE Goal Kicking ‘Pro Tip Video Series’:

As a gesture of goodwill, I wanted to share with you this video chapter (3mins), that will be the summary of my professional PlaceKicking Template.

Obviously the ‘meat’ of the process would come before any summary, yet I know this video will still provide you value in setting a course for your further development:

Click Below To View:

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ACCESS THE FULL COURSE HERE:

By Stuart Lierich

There’s few sights better than a goal kicker that is effortlessly able to slot goals from distance, and under pressure.

The tireless Welsh fullback, Leigh Halfpenny is one such player.

Aside from his silky skills in general play, it is his goal kicking that provides a great learning example for many young players looking to improve their own game.

Leigh is a prolific goal kicker from reasonable distance, yet rarely varies his kicking framework to do so.

Get Access To The FREE Goal Kicking ‘Pro Tip Video Series’ Here:

The short analysis video below will take you through some of the keys to making great contact on the ball, in particular:

* A prolonged, steely gaze on ball sweet spot.

* A controlled and direct approach to tee.

* Great balance & body stability upon contact with the ball

FULL GOAL KICKING LIKE A PRO COURSE ACCESS HERE:

By Stuart Lierich

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In this article I thought I’d take a slightly different approach to breaking down a player’s kicking action and look at “Focus of Attention”.

For me this is such an overlooked area of coaching (goal kicking), yet so very influential in determining quality of contact and bulletproofing from both internal (your own thoughts and judgements) and external distractions (crowd jeering, opposition calling at you).

Annoyances like a crowd jeering, players running at you on approach or even those thoughts in your own mind can be quietened by a disciplined attentional strategy.

Why do we want a focused, quiet mind anyhow?

Good question, and I’m glad you asked.

Perhaps content for another day, but essentially a relaxed and focused state is much more likely to allow a shift to autopilot and thus increase our chances of a good kicking outcome. The more we try to control our thoughts (or our body), as well as taking in too much visual stimulation can certainly be counter productive.

The kicker in the spotlight today is the one widely regarded now as the ‘Smiling Assassin’, none other than the Chiefs (Super Rugby) dynamic fullback Damian McKenzie.

My observations are outlined in the video below, showing examples of Damian lining up for goal in his now trademark fashion.

Damian has introduced a ‘smile’ to his pre performance routine with the aim of ‘blocking out distractions’.

Although the planned outcome is fine, is this method of attainment really working for him? Could he have a better strategy to not only avoid distraction, but improve his kicking overall?

I believe, yes!

In particular, here are some key points in summary:

  • Place Kickers need to give structure to what they focus on (and how long for) before approaching the tee.
  • A target focus is much more likely to produce good reults than a ‘body control‘ focus
  • Too much information (for our eyes/brain to process) is too much information
  • Focus of Attention is a skill that must be practised
  • There are two targets (ball and goals), and the ball requires most attention for your body to calibrate the approach, steps and strike etc.
  • Focusing on smiling promotes conscious thought (a possible distraction and misdirected attention)
  • Knowing YOUR (yes, not the same for everyone) sweet spot a pre requisite
  • This strategy will improve accuracy and contact quality if practised or adapted

Click the video below for the analysis

It is worth pointing out, although I don’t know Damian, he has been quoted as saying he is ‘aware of people around him’ (when shooting at goal) making fun of his pre kick smile. He has also stated he has ‘been working hard on this to help prevent distractions’.

Some evidence that this initiative isn’t working perhaps?

Damian would be better served by not making “avoiding distractions” an aim or outcome. His current methods require conscious investment of thought as it appears. Rather, I feel “avoiding distractions” is a by-product of a good attentional focus strategy that is target oriented.

I guess what I’m suggesting is spend less time on the smile (avoid distraction) and more time on the ball (assist strike quality and avoid distraction).

It is an easy enough task for a coach to test whether a kicker is aware of distracting surroundings or operating on autopilot. I suggest saying something out loud whilst a player is about to approach the tee. A focused individual will not be able to recall what you said.

An extended focused gaze on the exact spot the player shall strike on the ball is in my experience the best way to avoid costly distraction when kicking from the tee.

So, my suggestions for Damian (as if he’s actually going to read this..):

  1. When you are in your “gather” position after marking out, take in a view of the goals for about one second.
  2. After taking in a view of the goals, bring your gaze back to the specific sweet spot on the ball that you wish to strike. Maintain a committed focus of attention on this spot only for about 2-3 seconds.
  3. Continue to gaze at the ‘spot’ on the ball as you approach the tee.
  4. The aim is a deep focus that actually clears your mind
  • Note, only one look at the goals (first) and one look at the ball (last), approach and kick….

Whilst some flexibility should exist within the coaching framework for this, it is fair to say Damian is a little erratic with his ‘direction’ of attention, so even just reducing his head swings with more time looking at the ball would help him long term.

As a sidenote it is fair to say that I have only isolated and discussed one aspect of Damian’s kicking routine. His action is the sum of many parts. Maybe fodder for another day but I also notice he often ‘finishes’ in different positions (posture), possibly a clue to weight transfer issues? As well, his stutter variations when opposition teams almost run his kicks down also suggest he is conscious of them and thus (possibly) misdirecting attention.

Click the video (20sec) to view a ‘close shave’:

A fine young prospect nonetheless. I had the pleasure recently of watching him play live in Canberra during the Chiefs rout of the ACT Brumbies in Super Rugby. Great vision, tireless support, fast and skilful.

I certainly hope he realises his full potential and sustains a long professional career. My tip is a likely future All Black…..

By Stuart Lierich

One of many articles on gaze behaviour and ‘Quiet Eye’ in sport performance 

 

There’s not too many better sights for me on a rugby pitch than a smooth, compact and powerful goal kicker.

Owen Farrell is certainly one example.

As with any kicker, when he maintains good, reasonably upright posture, his chances of making attempts are extremely high.

This posture (hips to shoulders), coupled with weight transfer (body momentum) channeled towards the target is a strong combination for control and accuracy.

We all know Faz can kick, but you may be surprised that there are occasions when he almost ‘slips’ out of his well rehearsed framework for kicking.

I mean, not all of his kicks display the balance and stability required to ensure success. Generally when Faz isn’t balanced, he still has enough quality foot contact AND his weight transfer is to target.

So let’s take a look at a series of short clips from Owen’s kicking to explain the importance of posture:

1. A slight lean back and to the right will affect ball strike and momentum of body through the kick. Too pronounced and this will equate to less powerful kicks and reduced accuracy.

2. Another example as above. This is almost the limit of reduced stability and balance at contact for Owen. Any further from his framework of success will result in an uncharacteristic missed attempt.

3. And here is one such missed attempt. Observe the posture, but more importantly take a close look at the direction of (body) momentum through the kick. No wonder it ended up left. Almost appeared he kicked ‘too hard’ as well, actually reducing power value post contact. Note the ball landed inside the in goal area. Impact Line is critical – The path of the knee, (ankle), foot through the apex of the ball need to all form one line to target…..

4. Owen at his best! Compact and smooth, almost effortless. Have a look at his posture as he finishes that last ‘jump’ after making contact with through the ball. Balanced, stable and directed to the target area (goals)…

Posture is so important. Don’t be a ‘slouch’ and overlook an area that will make a massive difference to your kicking.

By Stuart Lierich

A great exponent of kicking smoother, rather than harder is Leigh Halfpenny.

In the clip below, I take a closer look at some key aspects to Leigh’s action and what makes it so deadly.

Namely:

* Extended gaze on the ball pre and during approach to tee

* Balance, stability and exceptional posture at heel strike

* Smooth weight transfer down the ‘channel’ to through to target

By Stuart Lierich

It is common place to see players with a place kicking action that relies mostly on a swing of the leg. This approach, generally, is inefficient, requires effort, and more often than not causes a player to ‘lose their shape’ or posture at the point of impact.

As skills coaches we need to coach with the mindset that kicking is an ‘all of body movement’.

Various body segments move during the kicking action and when they do smoothly, as a team, & in the right order, the results are a fluent, compact, and often effortless looking execution.

Weight Transfer is effectively the idea that we need to shift the energy or momentum from the kick (body directional movement), through the ball at impact and to target.

I like to imagine the line between the player and target is an imaginary channel, and the energy needs to flow down this channel.

Players that show good weight transfer are generally more accurate (as well as kicking further and with more control), if they strike through their intended line of the ball’s sweet spot.

A warning for coaches: Achieving good weight transfer is not about telling a player to move through the ball. This only creates an internal focus that often produces a ‘forced’ attempt to finish forward of the tee. You will need to tread carefully here, I suggest designing breakdown activities to promote the movement rather than instruct it!

Here is a little look at a teenage player demonstrating weight transfer through ball strike. I’m sure you’ll see other coachable aspects too, but for the purpose of the explanation, I draw your attention to the movement of the body post contact:

By Stuart Lierich

This article was originally published online at http://www.greenandgoldrugby.com

Whilst this isn’t exactly a fair comparison of overall place kicking styles (routines), the difference between Quade’s execution and that of Aaron from this match is marked. It’s fair to say although both very accomplished kickers, they have together suffered their fair share of the ‘yips’ in recent times and I was looking forward to running the microscope over this encounter.

Bledisloe III was always going to have the right sort of anticipation for anyone that has an eye for the kicking game. A cruising All Blacks crew playing in front of 29,000 confident fans at the indoor ‘swimming pool’. Coupled with a Wallabies outfit looking to stave off a series whitewash on Kiwi soil. We can already see the mental challenge for any rugby performance.

Rather than take you through the ‘running sheet’ for each player’s routine, I will highlight a few key points and differences that determined the outcome of the attempts highlighted in our video.

Routine is so much more than technique. The effects of psychological application including visualisation, internal cueing and attentional focus can ultimately determine the quality of technical execution. A kickers role here is not to put the cart before the horse, so to speak.

And so to Quade. Aside from his steely concentration, Cooper’s commitment to routine & process was evident in the fact it did not vary all night. Many tests, as a coach, can be conducted with players to determine susceptibility to distraction. In this match, Quade was always going to be tested. So first points to Cooper for applying and trusting his ‘system’…

It could also be argued, that Aaron “physically” missed the kick in the video, but it (in my opinion) was his “mental” application through the routine affected the outcome. This often happens when players are kicking from beyond their (distance) range or are feeling scoreboard or time pressures. I have seen this from Aaron before (Super Rugby Final 2013) and wonder of his commitment to this area of his performance.

THE KICKS IN QUESTION: (Video Below)

Aaron appears to have rushed his set up process, and gave himself less time to gather than I recall is the norm for him.

‘Rushing’ to the tee, as occurred here, can cause hips to sink at heel strike which compromises a sound kicking posture. Quite simply, Aaron was not balanced at the point of impact. The distance may have played on his mind as he appeared to swing/strike too hard. His inability to “close off” his non kicking side caused counter rotation which is evident by the anchor effect of his support leg. Here the kicking leg force has dominated, causing a severe hook to the left. Not to mention his support foot a little short of the tee, affecting hip rotation and timing. Let’s not ignore contact point on the ball- the foot wrapped wide causing mis-kick and where the ball landed. Falling away, there wasn’t ever going to be optimal power transfer. The damage had been done before contact.

For Quade, almost a mirrored opposite. Firstly, he looked in control of his Pre Performance Routine. No mean feat considering the tee was only metres from the Dunnas faithful. Superior balance and stability at tee arrival, coupled with ideal ‘posture’ give a great platform from which to kick. It was the nature of his controlled approach to the tee that allows for this.

His contact (strike) as you can see was directly through the line of the ball, parallel to target. Delivering with explosive foot speed, Quade was able to successfully kick smoother, not harder.

It was his non-kicking side that did a great job in securing the straight ball flight. A “shoulder through the door” movement at contact closes off that side of the body providing assistance and preventing rotation (pivoting) and anchoring. He achieved this whilst maintaining a compact technique and transfer of weight in the direction of the goals. Just have a look how he landed, beautiful in the eyes of a kicking coach.

AND THE WINNER IS?…

Although we know Aaron is a well established kicker, and they both have work ahead to achieve “great” status, a unanimous points decision on this occasion to Quade Cooper…

For all the kicking ‘nerds’ out there I hope this has been a nice break from reading about the usual rugby topics (and no less exciting and important of course) and shed some light on an often overlooked and under-analysed area of our great game.

By Stuart Lierich

Specialist Rugby Kicking & Catching Coach