The Precision Players: Football Kicker Position

John Rizzo

American Football Kicker Position

The American football kicker, often a silent hero on the field, plays a unique and vital role in the game’s dynamics. 

From splitting the uprights with field goals to strategically executing onside kicks, kickers bring precision and strategy to every match. 

In this exploration of the American football kicker position, we delve into the intricacies of their specialized skills, the mental fortitude required to face high-pressure scenarios, and the challenges they encounter, from isolation to unpredictable weather conditions. 

Join us on a journey through the precise world of kicking, where technique meets mental resilience, and learn how these athletes overcome the hurdles unique to their position. So, stay sharp. 

The Basics of the American Football Kicker Position

The kicker in American football is a specialized position responsible for handling kicking duties, primarily field goals, extra points, and kickoffs. Here are the basics of the American football kicker position:

Field Goals

American Football Kicker Position

The primary responsibility of a kicker is to kick field goals, which are attempts to score points by kicking the ball through the goalposts located at the end of the opposing team’s end zone.

Field goals can be attempted from varying distances, and successful kicks are worth three points.

The kicker works in coordination with a holder (who catches and places the ball) and a long snapper (who snaps the ball to the holder) during field goal attempts.

Extra Points

After a touchdown, the kicking team has the option to attempt an extra point by kicking the ball through the goalposts. This is usually done from a shorter distance than a field goal.

Extra point attempts are typically kicked from the 2-yard line in professional football, resulting in one point if successful.

Kickoffs

The kicker is responsible for initiating play at the start of each half, after each touchdown, and following a safety. This is done by kicking the ball as far down the field as possible.

Kickoffs are taken from the kicking team’s 35-yard line in professional football.

If the ball is kicked through the opposing team’s end zone or if the receiving team downs the ball in their end zone, it results in a touchback, and the receiving team starts their drive at the 25-yard line in professional football.

Punting (Occasionally)

Some kickers also serve as punters, handling the duties of punting the ball on fourth downs when the team decides not to attempt a field goal. However, it’s more common for teams to have a dedicated punter.

Special Teams

Kickers are part of the special teams unit, which includes players focused on kicking and returning kicks. Special teams play is crucial for field position and can impact the outcome of a game.

Accuracy and Leg Strength

Kickers need accuracy for field goals and extra points, and leg strength is essential for kickoffs and long-distance field goals.

Pressure Situations

Kickers often find themselves in high-pressure situations, especially when attempting a game-winning or game-tying field goal. Mental toughness is crucial in these situations.

Kicking Techniques and Styles in American Football

In American football, the art of kicking involves a combination of precision, power, and technique. 

Kickers employ various methods to achieve accuracy and distance in field goals, extra points, and kickoffs. Here are some kicking techniques and styles commonly seen in American football:

Soccer-Style Kicking

Soccer-Style Kicking

Soccer-style kicking is a technique where the kicker approaches the ball from an angle and strikes it with the instep of the foot. 

This style has become increasingly popular among kickers because it allows for greater accuracy and control.

The soccer-style technique allows kickers to have a more direct and accurate path to the ball, resulting in a cleaner strike. It also enables kickers to generate more power and lift, making longer field goals possible.

Straight-On Kicking

Straight-on kicking is a traditional style where the kicker approaches the ball head-on, using the toe to make contact. This style was more common in the early days of American football but has become less prevalent.

While straight-on kicking may lack the precision of soccer style, some kickers prefer it for its simplicity and the ability to generate power. However, it requires a precise striking point on the foot for accuracy.

Pooch Kick (Onside Kick)

In certain situations, such as attempting an onside kick to regain possession, kickers may use a “pooch kick.” This involves a shorter, controlled kick that aims to give the kicking team the best chance to recover the ball.

Pooch kicks are designed to limit the distance the ball travels while maximizing the chance for the kicking team to recover possession. It requires a delicate touch to avoid the ball traveling too far.

High-Arcing Kickoffs

Kickers often use a high-arching kickoff to allow their coverage team more time to get down the field and limit the return yardage for the opposing team.

High-arcing kickoffs can disrupt the rhythm of the return team, giving the coverage team a better opportunity to make a tackle. It also allows the coverage team to get downfield quickly and surround the kick returner.

Adjusting for Weather Conditions

Weather conditions, such as wind and rain, can significantly impact kicking accuracy. Kickers must adjust their techniques accordingly, such as altering their approach or aiming to compensate for the conditions.

Adapting to weather conditions is crucial for kickers to maintain consistency. Whether it’s adjusting the trajectory for windy conditions or ensuring a solid plant foot in wet weather, kickers must be versatile to handle various game-day scenarios.

The Mental Game of a Kicker

The mental game is a crucial aspect of a kicker’s performance in American football. 

Kicking requires not only physical skill but also mental resilience, focus, and the ability to handle pressure. Here are key elements of the mental game for a kicker:

Isolation and Focus

Isolation and Focus

Kickers often find themselves isolated on the sideline for much of the game, only coming onto the field for specific plays. This can be mentally challenging as they must stay focused and ready to perform when called upon.

Maintaining mental focus during periods of inactivity is crucial. Kickers need to stay engaged with the game mentally, visualize successful kicks, and be ready to transition from a spectator to a key player at a moment’s notice.

Handling Pressure Situations

Kickers often face high-pressure situations, especially during game-deciding field goal attempts. The outcome of the game can rest on their performance, making these moments particularly stressful.

Developing mental toughness is essential. Kickers must embrace pressure situations, stay calm under stress, and trust their training. Visualization and positive self-talk are common techniques used to build confidence in these critical moments.

Dealing with Misses

Missing a kick is an inevitable part of a kicker’s career, and how they respond mentally to a miss is crucial for future success.

Resilience is key. Successful kickers learn from misses without dwelling on them. They analyze what went wrong, make necessary adjustments, and focus on the next opportunity. 

Maintaining a short memory for both successes and failures is vital for consistent performance.

Routine and Rituals

Kicking often involves routine and precision, and any disruption to a kicker’s routine can affect their mental state.

Establishing pre-kick routines and rituals helps kickers find a mental zone of concentration. Whether it’s visualizing the successful kick, taking a specific number of steps back, or having a routine conversation with the holder, these rituals contribute to mental preparation and stability.

Team Confidence and Support

As specialists, kickers may feel a sense of isolation from the rest of the team, which can affect their confidence.

Building a strong relationship with teammates and coaches is crucial. Feeling the support of the team and having confidence from coaches contribute to a kicker’s mental strength. 

Knowing that the team believes in their ability can positively impact performance.

Adapting to Changing Conditions

Weather conditions, field conditions, and game situations can change rapidly, requiring kickers to adapt mentally.

Flexibility and adaptability are key mental attributes. Kickers must be able to adjust their mental approach based on changing circumstances. 

This includes adapting to different field conditions, adjusting the kicking technique based on wind direction, and staying composed in adverse weather.

Training and Preparation of A Kicker 

Effective training and preparation are paramount for kickers in American football. Kicking requires a unique set of skills, combining precision, power, and mental focus. 

Here are key aspects of a kicker’s training and preparation:

Specialized Skill Development

Specialized Skill Development

Kickers engage in specialized training to hone their kicking skills. This includes dedicated practice sessions focused on accuracy, distance, and consistency in field goals, extra points, and kickoffs.

Drill work often involves refining the kicking technique, ensuring a consistent approach, a controlled follow-through, and precise contact with the ball. Specific attention is paid to the mechanics of the swing to optimize power and accuracy.

Strength and Conditioning

While kicking is a skill-based activity, kickers also need strength and conditioning to enhance their leg power and overall athletic performance.

Strength training for kickers may include exercises targeting the lower body, particularly the quadriceps, hamstrings, and core muscles. Balance and flexibility exercises are also crucial to ensure a full range of motion during kicks.

Simulation of Game Scenarios

Kickers practice in scenarios that simulate game conditions, helping them acclimate to the pressure and unpredictability of real-game situations.

Coaches create drills where kickers face time constraints, changing weather conditions, and different field positions to prepare them for the diverse challenges they might encounter during a game. 

This helps build mental resilience and adaptability.

Mental Training and Visualization

Mental preparation is a significant component of a kicker’s training regimen. This involves building mental toughness, focus, and confidence.

Kickers often use visualization techniques to mentally rehearse successful kicks. They visualize themselves making precise contact with the ball, the ball sailing through the goalposts, and the positive emotions associated with success. 

This mental imagery helps improve performance and confidence in high-pressure situations.

Film Study and Analysis

Kickers engage in film studies to analyze their own performances and study opponents’ tendencies, including the strategies of opposing special teams.

Reviewing game footage allows kickers to identify areas for improvement, refine their technique, and make strategic adjustments. 

Understanding opponents’ tendencies can help kickers anticipate and react to different game situations effectively.

Regular Practice with Holders and Snappers

Regular Practice with Holders and Snappers

Developing a strong relationship and chemistry with holders and snappers is crucial for successful kicks.

Kickers work regularly with their holders and snappers to ensure smooth and efficient field goals and extra-point attempts. This includes practicing the timing of the snap, hold, and kick to maximize accuracy and consistency.

Challenges Faced by Kickers

While kickers play a crucial role in American football, their position comes with unique challenges that extend beyond the physical aspects of the game. 

Understanding and overcoming these challenges is essential for a kicker’s success on the field.

High-Pressure Situations

Kickers often find themselves in high-pressure situations, especially during crucial moments of the game where a successful kick can determine the outcome.

The pressure to perform in critical moments can lead to mental stress and anxiety. Managing the psychological aspect of high-pressure situations is a constant challenge for kickers, requiring mental resilience and focus.

Limited Playing Time

Kickers spend a significant amount of time on the sideline and may only be on the field for a few plays during a game.

Limited playing time means kickers must stay mentally engaged and physically prepared despite extended periods of inactivity. Maintaining focus and readiness to perform on demand can be challenging.

Isolation from Team Dynamics

Kickers, as specialists, may feel isolated from the broader team dynamics, which are often centered around offensive and defensive units.

This sense of isolation can affect a kicker’s confidence and team cohesion. Building strong relationships with teammates and coaches becomes crucial to counteract this challenge, fostering a sense of unity and support.

Unpredictable Weather Conditions

Weather conditions, including wind, rain, and snow, can significantly impact a kicker’s performance.

Adapting to unpredictable weather conditions poses a constant challenge. Wind, in particular, can affect the trajectory of the ball during kicks, requiring kickers to make quick adjustments and calculate the impact on distance and accuracy.

Public Scrutiny and Criticism

Kickers often face intense scrutiny and criticism, especially when they miss critical kicks that could impact the outcome of a game.

The public nature of their role means that failures are highly visible. Handling criticism, maintaining confidence, and bouncing back from misses are ongoing mental challenges that kickers must navigate to sustain a successful career.

Kickers face a unique set of challenges, encompassing both the mental and physical aspects of their position.

FAQs 

How far is the standard distance for an extra point kick in American football?

The standard distance for an extra point kick in American football is 33 yards. 

The kick is taken from the 15-yard line, making it a 20-yard kick through the goalposts. Successful attempts earn the kicking team one point.

What is the purpose of an onside kick in football?

An onside kick is strategically used to regain possession of the ball. 

Instead of kicking the ball deep for a standard kickoff, the kicking team attempts a shorter, controlled kick to give themselves the best chance of recovering the ball and maintaining possession.

Can kickers also serve as punters in American football?

Yes, some kickers take on the additional role of punters. While it’s more common for teams to have separate kickers and punters, some players possess the skills to excel in both roles. 

Punters focus on kicking for distance and hang time to control field position.

What is the purpose of a pooch kick in football?

A pooch kick is a deliberate short, high kick used on kickoffs. The goal is to limit the distance the ball travels, allowing the kicking team to better position themselves for a potential recovery. 

Pooch kicks are often employed strategically, especially in onside kick situations.

How do kickers deal with pressure situations in football?

Kickers manage pressure situations through mental preparation and resilience. Visualization techniques, positive self-talk, and a focus on routine help build confidence. 

Successful kickers embrace high-pressure moments, maintain composure, and learn from both successes and misses to continually improve their performance.

Wrapping Up

In the realm of American football, kickers stand as unsung heroes, their impact often determined by a single kick. 

From the careful choreography of a field goal attempt to the strategic nuances of onside kicks, these athletes navigate a path that demands precision, resilience, and adaptability. 

Beyond the cheers and critiques, kickers embody a unique blend of skill and mental fortitude. 

As we conclude our exploration of the American football kicker position, we recognize the integral role they play in the sport’s fabric. 

Their ability to handle pressure, overcome challenges, and contribute crucial points to the scoreboard showcases the artistry within this specialized position. 

So, the next time a kicker takes the field, watch closely – for in their every kick, there lies a story of precision, perseverance, and the undeniable impact of the American football kicker. Best wishes. 

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John Rizzo

I am a professional rugby player in the Washington DC-Baltimore area. I have been playing rugby for over 10 years and have had the opportunity to play in many different countries. I am also a coach for both youth and adult rugby teams. I graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in Sports Management and Marketing. I am currently working on my MPA from American University and plan to pursue this career path after graduating next year. LinkedIn