SUMMARY: Kicking is arguably the most important skill in our game. It’s the one thing AFL and state league recruiters look at most when considering a player. Yet most junior players have never been taught how to kick properly. In this article, you’ll discover the 5 most common faults I’ve identified when working with elite juniors, along with a number of simple remedial drills to address them. If you are a junior coach or parent who wants to help their kids reach the next level, then this article should be required reading!
Recently, I had the opportunity to conduct some remedial kicking training sessions with a group of 16 year olds who had dreams of entering the very successful WAFL Colts system. These players had been identified as the best players within their respective clubs and the opportunity to provide them with some knowledge was an honour.
Having said that, it became evident that the majority of them had flaws in their kicking actions that hadn’t been addressed by their junior coaches. This is always difficult as while many junior coaches have great knowledge of football in general, they are often unaware of the finer techniques of kicking or handball.
The good news is that whilst I identified a number of flaws in their kicking actions, the majority of these can be rectified by simple remedial drills, which in turn will enhance their chances of making it to the elite level.
Having the advantage of time on my side, I put together a program based on the knowledge I had gained from my coaching career and the many coaching courses I have attended over the years. I also used a few techniques I learned from Simon Goosey, a renowned AFL goal kicking coach and current coach of the mighty Frankston Dolphins in the VFL (his Goal Kicking DVD is available through our Coaches Shop).
In this article, I will explain the 5 most common flaws I found in their (and other players) kicking actions, along with some simple correction techniques to address them.
Kicking Video Analysis
To begin with, I steadfastly believe that you cannot effectively correct a player’s kicking action without the use of video footage. This belief is based on more than 20 years of working with both junior and senior players at both beginner, intermediate and elite levels.
In my experience, a player needs to be able to visually see themselves kicking a ball and performing their faults before they can properly appreciate and rectify them. This can be done using a common household video camera, a tripod and a computer.
So when I first began working with this group of elite young 16 year olds, the first thing I did was film each player performing a set shot kick from the following angles:
- From the back,
- From the side, and
- From the front.
From there, I studied each player and using a ‘Kicking Analysis Sheet’, I was able to work through the various parts of their kicking action. I then prepared a written report for each player, highlighting the strong areas of their kicking action along with the areas which needed remedial work.
Some of the main areas examined in my ‘Kicking Analysis Sheet’ included:
- The ball grip,
- The run up,
- The ball drop,
- The balance arm (known as the non-guiding arm),
- The run up cadence,
- Square hips,
- The placement of the planted foot,
- The ball strike,
- The follow through,
- Pointed Toes,
- Body position at the kick
Once the analysis was done, I sat down with the players and played back the vision on a large screen so they could watch themselves kicking at both normal speed and slow motion. We were able to talk through each section of their kicking action from various angles and point out the areas that needed attention or which could improve their technique.
By integrating both video footage with a written report, the players could actually see what I was trying to explain and were all very receptive of the feedback provided.
After the kicking analysis session, we then moved onto the oval where the players could practice their kicking actions in a relaxed session, providing me an opportunity to implement any changes.
Upon studying the video footage of the 20-plus players in the group, I realized there were many common faults in their collective kicking actions. The following are the most commonly identified flaws I found, along with some simple remedies to correct them.
Common Flaw # 1 – The Run Up
The first issue I identified was many of the players didn’t run directly at their target when they kicked.
This means their hips are not square to the target when they kick, which is important as the ball will generally travel in the direction the hips are facing. It can be similar to a golfers swing; if the club face is at an angle to the target, the ball will follow where the club face points to.
This common fault can cause the kicking leg to take on a swinging action, and/or cause the planted leg to come across the front of the kicking leg. This can ultimately cause the ball to “hook” during flight.
Simple remedial drills to fix this include having players standing along a straight line (eg. an edge of the centre square) and using the line to practice a straight line run up while kicking to each other. You can also add a couple of small posts about 2 metres apart as a target to keep the target area narrow.
Common Flaw # 2 – Non Guiding Arm Arc
This by far was the most common fault among the players tested. In other words, many of the players weren’t using their non-guiding arm (also known as the balance arm) to balance during the kicking action.
Some would drop their arm during the kick, which in turn could pull their body down slightly and affect their balance. Others would have it above their heads or pushing forward during the kick.
It is important to keep the arm out at shoulder height, with it preferably moving in an arcing motion during the kick.
Effects of not utilising the balance arm on the kick include reduced distance and accuracy.
A simple remedial drill to address this is “Fence Kicking”, in which a player kicks off one step with their balance arm holding onto a fence rail or post.
You can also use another drill called “Hang Kicking”, where a player stands on one leg (support leg) and tries to kick the ball as far as they can. Without the balance arm, it is very difficult for them to retain their balance.
Common Flaw # 3 – Toe Point
During the video session, I also noticed that some players kicked with a square ankle, causing the toes to point upwards when the ball struck the foot. This forces the ball to travel high and seriously reduced their kicking distance and accuracy.
One way to remedy this is to have a player kick low trajectory kicks under a soccer goal cross bar (or similar). This forces the player to point the toe at the target when they kick, rather than kicking under the ball.
Common Flaw # 4 – Follow Through
Another of the more common faults I saw was the lack of follow through after the kick. Many players appeared to stab at the ball, and this became more evident as we reduced the length of the kick. I believe that the kicking action or follow through should always remain the same, especially in a static kick and we should encourage players to reduce the power in the leg swing during the kick to wipe off distance.
Common Flaw # 5 – Excessive Ball Movement
Another common fault was that many players moved the ball around too much during the run up. This seriously affected the consistency and accuracy of their kicking.
Other players also failed to drop the ball aligned to the kicking leg. That is, from the back view, the ball was outside the bodyline. This is another major problem as it seriously affects the ball strike with the foot. Player’s who drop the ball wide or lateral to the kicking leg tend to “search” for the ball during the kick, resulting in a hooking action and an unbalanced kick.
Again, getting players to kick along a straight line at a pre-determined target will assist in keeping the player square to the target and reduce the movement of the ball during the ball drop.
So these are the most common faults I found during the program and when using some of the remedial techniques discussed, I found the response and improvement by the players was remarkable.
There is no doubt the video footage was the most important factor here and a great learning tool for the players.
It was also evident that this was the first time the players had received personal coaching focussed solely on their individual kicking techniques.
Through numerous discussions with AFL and state league recruiters, I’ve found most tend to look at skills first (particularly kicking), endurance second and speed third when they consider a player.
Yet many elite junior coaches and AFL recruiters all sing the same tune, and that is, most young kids can’t kick And if you can’t kick, you can’t play.
Let’s face it, when you break our game down to its rarest form, football is a game of keepy off, and if we retain the ball more than our opposition through good skills, the wins will come more often than not.
For this reason, I strongly encourage junior coaches (13 years and under) to forget about game plans, zones, presses and tactics and spend the majority of their training time teaching their kids to kick properly.