SUMMARY: The common belief in AFL circles is that every player’s natural kicking action is different and therefore, their technique should be tweaked rather than overhauled. Now seventy year old Roy Redman from Kick Builders, along with his protégé Sean Clarke, are challenging this belief with an elite kicking program promising to transform any player into an elite kick within just 6 weeks, and with amazing results.
Discover the amazing methodology behind their success. Includes 3 quick and easy ways you can improve your players kicking and 4 simple kicking drills players can practice at home.
In the early 1980s, two medical researchers from Perth by the names of Barry Marshall and Robin Warren made an astonishing discovery.
They discovered stomach ulcers were caused by tiny shaped bacteria later named Helicobacter pylori. The significance of this discovery was enormous. If ulcers were caused by bacteria, they could be cured with simple treatments of antibiotics. The health prospects of several hundred human beings could now suddenly be improved.
The medical world however did not rejoice. The reason was simple. No-one believed them.
There were several problems with the bacteria story. Firstly, the location; a medical researcher in Perth is like a physicist from Mississippi. Science is science, but thanks to some basic human snobbery, we tend to think it will emerge from some places but not others.
Secondly, at the time of the discovery, Robin Warren was a staff pathologist at a local hospital and Barry Marshall a thirty-year old internist in training, not even a doctor yet. The medical community expects important discoveries to come from PhDs at large world class medical centres, not staff pathologists and internists at a local hospital.
Marshall and Warren couldn’t even get their research paper published by a medical journal. When Marshall presented their findings at a professional conference, the scientists snickered. One even commented he “simply didn’t have the demeanour of a scientist.”
By 1984, Marshall’s patience had worn thin. So one morning, he called his colleagues into his lab and they watched in horror as he chugged a glass filled with about a billion H pylori.
Within a few days, Marshall had the classic symptoms of gastritis, the early stages of an ulcer. Using an endoscope, his colleagues found his stomach lining, previously [ink and healthy, was now red and inflamed.
Like a magician, Marshall then cured himself with a course of antibiotics and bismuth. The medical world was still sceptical, but Marshall’s demonstration had at least given their theory a second wind and subsequent research began.
By 1994, the US National Institute of Health had finally endorsed the idea that antibiotics were the preferred treatment for ulcers. In 2005, Marshall and Warren were at last awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work.
Their research has since contributed to an important theme that bacteria and viruses cause more diseases than we would think. It’s just a pity it took the medical world so long to believe them because they falsely assumed no Doctor in Perth could ever come up with such a life-changing discovery.
Could This Happen In Football?
This brings us to the interesting story of seventy year old Queenslander Roy Redman from Kick Builders.
Roy claims he has developed an elite kicking program that can transform almost any player into a technically perfect kick within just six weeks. Even more interesting, some of his ideas for coaching the drop punt are contrary to that of the mainstream AFL.
As you can imagine, no-one in the AFL system wants to believe his story. To be fair, who can blame them?
Firstly, Queensland? Isn’t that a rugby league state? If a kicking guru were to rise up and challenge the AFL experts on the all mighty drop punt – an art as ancient as the game itself – surely they’d come from one of the strong football state such as Victoria, South Australia, the West… even Tassie. But Queensland?
Secondly, these guys didn’t even have AFL experience. Nor were they biomechanics from an esteemed research laboratory or university. What would they know about coaching elite kicking that the AFL experts didn’t?
In this article, Roy explains the unique coaching principle he uses to coach the elite kick, and shares three quick ways coaches can improve their players’ kicking.
If you are a coach or player who appreciates the importance of kicking efficiency in today’s modern game, then this article will certainly give you something to think about. But firstly:
About Kick Builders
Kick Builders was started by Queenslander Roy Redman and Sean Clarke, one of Roy’s former young gun pupils.
Like most Queenslanders, Roy had no interest in AFL and had never played. It wasn’t until his kids began playing the game back in the early 1970s that Roy, like most fathers, got roped into coaching their junior teams.
Roy, starting as a complete novice, began researching the game and how to coach it. He devoured every book and article he could on the subject, but quickly discovered while there were basic instructions on how to kick a drop punt, there was nothing in the way of how to “teach it” to young players.
Without a proper system in place to teach his players how to kick a drop punt, Roy was in a potion where he had to develop his own training systems for his young players.
He came from a mechanical teaching background, but interestingly it was his experiences as a young boy learning tennis that he most drew inspiration from.
A great deal of research had gone into tennis around the world at that time and this resulted in many tennis coaches using what is known as the ‘building block principle’ to teach players.
According to Kick Builders, the building block principle can be simply described as made up of three main areas:
- Breaking each skill down into separate components,
- Developing mini-drills to teach each component in isolation,
- Reconstructing the skill at the end and smoothing out the robotic action.
When as a young boy Roy learnt the service action for example, he first had to stand at the line and practice rocking back and forwards. He was then given a racket and practiced gripping it in his hand, then had to practice throwing the ball up in the air, and then how to swing the racket correctly.
It wasn’t until he had mastered each separate skill component in isolation that Roy was finally allowed to put it altogether and actually practice the service action as a whole.
Roy thought, if the building block principle was being used so successfully to teach skills in tennis, a sport far advanced in sports science at that time than AFL, then surely it could be adapted and used to teach players how to become an elite drop punt kick.
Building Block Principle For The Drop Punt
When Roy first started researching kicking, he spent the best part of a decade (late 70s and early 80s) with his trusty old video recorder, freeze framing and studying the elite kicks in the VFL (possibly one of the earliest cases of video analysis in our game). He laughs when he looks back at those late nights sitting up and studying footage in his living room, trying not to disturb his sleeping family.
This analysis helped him identify 20 unique components of an elite drop punt kicking action.
With his local footy oval as his lab and his young players the guinea pigs, Roy then spent the next 25 years developing a host of mini-drills teaching each unique component of the drop punt in isolation.
Using these mini-drills, Sean and Roy eventually developed a six-week kicking program which, according to Kick Builders, could transform any player into a technically perfect kick.
They define an elite kick as:
- A player must dispose of the football from hand to foot whilst running at pace and be able to accurately deliver to a teammate 35 – 40 metres further afield at a low trajectory (face height).
- A player must also be able to change direction whilst carrying the ball at pace, straighten and then deliver the football at a low trajectory to the targeted teammate.
- The player must be in total balance before, during and after the kicking phase allowing him to follow the kick without any noticeable change in his running gait.
- A player must be capable of responding to a changing teammate option during the ball carrying phase and deliver accurately the required distance mentioned above.
Anyone who follows coaching like we do will immediately recognise that Roy’s claims are contrary to the widely held beliefs of AFL circles.
Their mainstream opinion is that each player’s physiological make up is different and therefore each player will have their own unique style which coaches should try to tweak, rather than reinvent.
In a recent article on the AFL.com.au website for example, it was reported:
“Coaches such as Kevin Ball (from Victoria University’s biomechanics department) are successful because they not only understand kicking, they can assess how to get the best out of each individual by applying their knowledge according to the needs of the player, rather than rigid rules on how to kick… As the former hockey player understands of kicking has grown and evolved, he is now able to make a huge difference without necessarily making huge overhauls to a player’s technique, which remains an individual thing.”
Roy dismisses the viewpoint, pointing to golf as an example.
He reasons that, almost every professional golfer on tour has the same identical swinging action, from the gripping of the club down to the follow through. This technique is based on what sport scientists have identified as the ‘optimum technique’ for hitting a ball and is also taught based on the ‘building block’ principle.
There are of course a few who argue that golfers have differing actions, but to hit a ball over 200 meters down a narrow fairway they must still perform certain actions of the swing (building blocks) in a prescribed manner, less the rough beckons.
He argues that like a golf swing, there is also an optimum technique for kicking an AFL football. Sure, ten different players could well have ten varying styles of kicking, but as each compromise their kicking action; they limit their capacity to consistently kick at an elite level.
It does well to also remember that unlike golf where you can time your swing without any physical pressure, AFL players most often perform their kicking action in the running gait with a defender in hot pursuit and muscle fatigue setting in, making strong building blocks of the kicking technique even more important.
Kick Builders also adds that all of the players who have completed their six week elite kicking program end up with identical kicking actions, be they tall, short, muscular or skinny. Size and body shape is irrelevant to optimum technique.
3 Quick And Easy Ways To Improve Your Players Kicking
As we have mentioned, Roy has identified 20 unique components of an elite drop punt and developed individual mini-drills to teach each component in isolation.
We obviously cannot cover every component or mini-drill in this article, however Roy did offer up some quick and easy ways that coaches can use to improve their players kicking.
To start with, Kick Builders gave us three components they saw as integral to an optimal drop punt: (1) the grip, (2) the lift, and (3) the balance arm.
# 1 – The Grip
According to Kick Builders, the most contentious part of teaching the drop punt is the grip on the football. “Ask twenty players and you’ll get twenty different answers on what the ideal grip is.”
Through their extensive research, Kick Builders has developed what they consider to be the ideal grip. They determined this grip after analysing the relationship between the ball and hand during the kicking action and what was required of the player to deliver it to the foot in a running gait.
Their grip is a non-negotiable with their players; that is it doesn’t change or alter regardless of who undertakes their program. They consider it to be the main driver of the drop punt technique.
- The grip they require on the ball is on the top half of the footy where the ball narrows towards its point, allowing the thumb and little finger to come together and provide a firmer grip purchase on the ball surface.
- The middle finger runs down the side seam of the ball, and finishes about in line with the bottom lace.
- Both hands are mirrored when holding the ball with the thumbs close to touching the middle seam.
- The middle finger should run in a straight line with the forearm. When the ball is lifted and dropped, the wrist tilts slightly down so the nose of the ball spins slightly forward when dropped, causing the ball to glide down to the foot rather than “float”.
There are a number of benefits to this grip. For starters, the ball can be pivoted at the wrist to tilt the ball at the release point prior to dispatching for kicking.
It also provides a 19.56% lower ball drop compared to other commonly used grips.
Roy admits that most players initially feel this grip to be uncomfortable. But after performing ball drills such as spinning, nosing, hand waving and flipping of the ball, the hold becomes natural and permanent.
“The first thing players say when they try this grip is ‘Oh I feel uncomfortable and it slips out of my hand.’ But after doing these drills they say, ‘Oh gee, I can’t hold it any other way now.’ That’s the key. The key is not saying hold the ball this way, the key is using these small drills to make it become indelible within the player.”
When asked how long it takes a player to master this new grip, Roy told us it depended on whether the player went home and did their homework drills or not.
“I’ve had a bloke come back and you’d swear he was a prized juggler at the end of the week. Usually it only takes a week at best, but only if the player does their mini-drills at home.”
# 2 – THE LIFT AND GUIDE
Roy told us that after establishing the ideal grip, the ball must now be raised before it is delivered to the foot.
This has a twofold effect. First it sets the balance arm (which we talk about next). The second is it allows you to lower the ball downwards to the foot, giving the ball a controlled guide path, rather than the ball just floating down to the ground.
The middle finger should also be in a straight line with the forearm during the lift, with the wrist then slightly tilted down (or nosed) during the drop to give it a controlled glide.
According to Roy, no ball lift means NO ball guide from the hand to the foot. As a result, the ball “floats” down to the foot, which is one of the main problems of bad kicks.
Players should therefore raise the ball from below the waist higher, remove the balance hand when it reaches its apex, guide the football down and give it a glide path down towards the foot.
We asked Roy what the ideal lift height was. “When you are learning a new skill, you should always overemphasize the movement first; then modify it later. That’s the key to learning these new movements. So when players first start practicing the lift, they can lift it almost to chest height to exaggerate the movement; then as they get better they can modify it to around waist height.”
# 3 – THE BALANCE HAND
According to Kick Builders, the balance hand is the stabilizer that allows the upper torso to stay set during the process of the kicking action. It is the opposite hand to the kicking leg and when set correctly, keeps the shoulders back, the bottom in (so you are not crouched over) and helps you maintain your balance and running posture before, during and after the kicking action.
The balance hand is also important because as the kicking leg comes through, the swinging leg mass pivots at the hip. If the torso is not held square during the kicking action, the upper body will turn, causing the leg to rotate across the body and the kick to hook. Sean cites Travis Cloak and Buddy Franklin as classic examples.
But when the torso is stabilized with the balance hand, the leg is able to swing through its trajectory without going off the line of the ball.
Roy further explained that the balance hand needs to finish in a right angle position he calls the ‘Policeman halt sign’.
“A lot of blokes leave their balance hand hanging straight out to dry, but we think this puts too much weight on the shoulder and pulls you off balance as you kick. Putting your arm into a right angle policeman halt sign is more ideal because the leverage takes the weight off the shoulder and doesn’t pull your torso down.”
Sure enough, we found ourselves standing with our left balance arm straight out to the side during our conversation and found the weight did tend to pull us to the left slightly. But when we stood there with our arm in the Policeman halt sign, the weight was more evenly dispersed and we were able to maintain our balance more easily.
Having identified these three main components of an elite kicking action, Roy then offered us a few quick drills for coaches and players to use to teach these components in isolation.
Kick Builders coach these drills during their training sessions, but players must also practice these drills at home to get the greatest benefit.
# 1 – Finger Spin Drill
According to Roy, this simple drill is a highly effective way to get players used to the ideal grip. It apparently takes a little getting used to at first, but will quickly make the ideal grip an indelible part of your players if practiced.
- You start this drill by holding the ball in both hands using the ideal grip.
- You then spin the ball forwards (down and away, not towards you), pivoting on the middle fingers of both hands. Remember, the middle fingers of your hand run along the side seams of the ball and finish about in line with the bottom lace.
- You spin the ball for one full rotation, and then lock the ball back into your thumbs and the ideal grip position.
- The drill is continually repeated over again.
# 2 – Around The Back Drill
The aim of this drill to get players used to gripping the ball using the ideal grip, as well as to practice their lift and ball drop. Roy’s experience has shown it is particularly helpful for improving the ball drop on the non-preferred foot.
- You start the drill by gripping the ball with your right hand using the ideal grip.
- You then pass the ball behind your back to your left hand. Both hands must be gripping the ball using the ideal grip during the exchange.
- Maintaining the ideal grip in your left hand, the ball is then bought from behind the back to the front of the body and in one smooth action, the lift and drop action is practiced with your left hand over your kicking leg.
- The lift and drop action is practiced in this drill, but the ball is retained in the hand and not dropped. It is also executed with just one hand at a time, with the balance hand never touching the ball after exchanged behind the back.
- Once the lift and drop action has been executed, the drill is then repeated in reverse. This time the ball is passed around the back to the right hand and the right hand practices the lift and drop on the opposite foot.
- The drill should be repeated over again.
# 3 – Mirror-Drill
This is a simple drill that gives player’s important feedback on their technique while practicing the ball drop.
- Standing in front of a mirror, you start the drill holding the ball with two hands in the ideal grip position.
- You then practice the lift and drop in front of the mirror, making sure you utilize the correct technique. That is, you lift the ball over your kicking leg, remove your balance hand at the apex of the lift, pull your balance hand back into the policeman halt position, then guide the ball down with your guide hand, tilting your wrist down slightly at the drop to nose the ball towards the foot.
- You then repeat the drill with the opposite hand.
# 4 – Hand Wave Drill
This is another simple drill that makes all the touching components of your hand, or contact points, push tight with your grip.
- Hold the ball in one hand, using the ideal grip position.
- Still maintaining the ideal grip, pronate the hand so that the ball is now under the hand, rather than to the side of your hand.
- Now wave the ball up and down as if the ball is going to slip out of your hand, but still maintaining the ideal grip on the ball and not dropping it.
As coaches, we can’t give our players natural ability, we can’t give them pace, and we can’t give them extra height.
But we can teach them skills and with kicking efficiency becoming a key part of the modern game, there may be no better skill to give your players than kicking.
Like Ron Barassi once said, “Nobody is born skilful, skills have to be acquired”. From a coaching perspective, it is just a matter of having a method to teach that.
The philosophy of teaching an optimum kicking technique to players may go against the mainstream AFL belief of every player having their own unique technique. However the building block principle is certainly effective and few can deny the results Kick Builders have achieved.
If a couple of Perth Doctors can prove the medical world wrong, then maybe a seventy year old Queenslander (with more than forty years experience teaching kicking to kids) could also do the same with our beloved drop punt.
Note – If you live in Queensland or ACT and need some help with your kicking, then you can contact Roy and Sean at http://www.kickbuilders.com/.