the study of the kicking components within sports

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Coaching Kickers and Punters, circa 1893

Although there were no kicking specialists or special teams coaches 118 years ago, kicking and punting were still part of the game. The following excerpt from American Football, by Walter Camp (a.k.a. the "Father of American Football"), 1893, looks at kicking instruction back in the early days:
While it is neither advisable nor necessary that a kicker be prevented from attempting to kick hard until he has mastered every detail of the swing and brought it to the same point of perfection that a finished oarsman does his stroke, it certainly is best, in his practice, to subordinate power to method until he acquire good form. The coach should take his man in hand by watching him make a half dozen kicks in his own way. Then he should select the worst of his faults, and show him why it is a fault, and how to correct it. He should keep him upon this one point for a few days, until he is convinced that there will be no backsliding, and then begin upon the next. In this way a few weeks will serve to make a second-class man a good one, and open the way for his becoming something out of the ordinary run in another season.

In judging the faults of a kicker, the coach should note just where he gets his power on, what is the position of his leg and foot upon the swing, and what part of the foot strikes the ball. These are the principal points, and deserve the first attention. Regarding the first of these, his power should be put on just as his foot has passed the lowest part of the arc in which it swings, and it should meet the ball in the upward sweep very soon after passing this point. The position of his leg and foot is to be next noted, and the " snap the whip " phrase is as good a one to convey the idea as any that can be adopted. As the leg begins to swing the knee is bent and the body pitched a little forward, so that the weight of the kick seems to start from the hip and travel down the leg as it straightens, reaching the foot just as it meets the ball, as above mentioned. As for the third point, the ball, when punted, should be struck by the instep and not by the toe. In a drop-kick and a place-kick the ball is met by the toe, and the sweep is made with "a longer leg," as the expression has it; that is, the foot swings nearer—in fact, almost along the ground.

All these three points can be most clearly illustrated by noting the effect of departures from them. If the power is not put on as above described, the man will simply send the ball along the ground, or will hook it up, merely tossing it with his foot instead of driving it. These two are the extremes, of course; but they illustrate where the power is lost or wasted. If the leg be not swung in proper position, the ball will be simply spatted with the foot, the only force coming from the knee. Finally, if the ball be not met with the proper part of the foot it may snap downwards off the toe, or be merely bunted by the ankle.

There is still another thing to be watched, which, while not the kick proper, really belongs to it as much as the swing of the leg. It is the way in which the ball is dropped to the foot from the hand or hands. The usual tendency of beginners, and many half-backs who could hardly be classed in that category, is to toss the ball from the hand; that is, to give it a motion up from the hand, which,however slight, causes much valuable time to be lost. The ball should always be dropped to the foot, the distance between the hand and foot being made as short as possible. The hand should be merely withdrawn just at the proper moment, and with practice it is not difficult to make the entire transfer from hand to foot so rapid as to almost eliminate any danger of having the ball stopped or struck during that part of the play. In drop-kicking the fall is necessarily greater, but it should never be a toss even then. There has been no little argument as to whether the ball should be held in one or both hands by one about to kick, and such are the examples of good kickers arrayed on both sides that we cannot fairly say that either way is the only right way. If a player has become so accustomed to the two-hand method as to make him uncomfortable and inaccurate if forced to the one-hand way, it is hardly advisable to make the change. But any player who is taken early enough can be taught to drop the ball with one hand, to the great advantage of both his quickness and his ability to kick from tight quarters or around an opponent.

The entire series of motions, therefore, which go to make up a well-performed kick should be in the coach's mind just as the separate parts of an oarsman's stroke are in the boatingman's mind when coaching a crew. The ball dropped, not tossed; the leg well swung, the power coming from both leg and hip with all the advantage that the poise of the body may add; the foot meeting the ball with the forward part of the instep on a punt, with the toe on a drop, and in either case just after passing the lowest point of the arc of swing, rather later on a punt than a drop, because the ground helps the latter to rise, while the rise of the former must come entirely from the foot.

The next step in the education of the kicker is the side swing. The ball cannot be kicked as far when met directly in front of the kicker—his leg swinging straight, as it would in taking a step in running —as it can be kicked by taking a side sweep with the leg and body, the hips acting as a sort of pivot. One of the most common false ideas regarding this side kick is, that it is not performed with the same part of the foot as the straight punt, but that the ball is struck by the side of the foot. Of course, this is all wrong. The foot meets the ball as fairly and directly as it does in the ordinary straight kick, and the ball impinges upon the top of the instep and toe just as before, the word " side " referring to the swing of the leg and position of the body only.

1 comment:

Coach Brent Grablachoff said...

nice article Mike! Always appreciate the time you invest in these interesting kicking stories.

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