the study of the kicking components within sports

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Mike Hollis: A Matter of Form

Mike Hollis' football kicking career began in junior high school in the great northwest. After beginning his collegiate career at Wenatchee Valley College, he transferred to the University of Idaho. He went on to have a successful NFL career, kicking for the Jacksonville Jaguars for seven years and the Buffalo Bills for one year. These days he's still in the Jacksonville area,  where he runs the ProForm Kicking Academy, helping the next generation of kickers to learn the trade.

We recently had an opportunity to speak with Mike on a variety of kicking topics:

What is your earliest recollection of kicking a ball (any kind of ball)?
"Probably just in the front yard playing a little soccer with the neighbor kids. I can’t remember when exactly, at what point or one particular moment. I never was in soccer and wanted to play with them."

Looking back over your entire career, does a particular field goal come to mind as your biggest kick?
"My second preseason with the Jaguars… my first year wasn’t real good and I was struggling in my second preseason up until a certain field goal. It happened to be a 59 yard field goal in St. Louis against the Rams in the dome. Having made that kick erased a few insecurities about my kicking. From that point on I felt that things started to change as far as my attitude and so forth with being an NFL kicker and what my potential was at that point."

Is there anything you’ve learned since becoming a kicking instructor that you wish you had known back during your playing days?
"I think the biggest thing that I would have done differently is trusting the form to kick the ball more than anything else, because I know that when you’re young you’re just trying to athletically get it done. There’s a certain form and foundation that you want to follow every time you kick a football, and if you just put your trust in that form and rely on that to make the kick, then it kind of takes a lot of pressure off you trying so hard. There were periods of time in my career that I was able to do that, but then there were some periods of time when I was not able to do that. I think now just by coaching kids and showing them what not to do… that’s one of the things we really focus on at the academy – try to get guys away from being results driven, meaning don’t worry about the results, worry about the form. The result will be what it’s supposed to be according to the form you used. That’s something that is easier said then done. But if I was able to do it all over again I would definitely make that my priority."

From the coaching perspective, which is most challenging to teach: kicking, punting, holding, or snapping?
"I think punting is probably the more difficult one because there’s a lot of movements that the guys have as far as punting the ball. There’s a lot of extra steps that they do. They have the ability to takes as long of steps as they want to because the ball is with them – it’s not at one particular spot. There’s a lot of room for error, in other words, when you’re punting a football. Because they’re the holder of their own football, they’re able to do, if they want to, this extra stuff to kick the ball. Punting overall is the toughest thing to coach and to learn."

When kicking in bad weather, are there any adjustments that need be made?
"No. The form and the step we coach are not an aggressive approach. It’s smooth, it’s balanced, it’s progressive, it’s just running by the ball. If you’re talking about footing, talking about rain, talking about wind… if you do the form and kick a solid ball, and you’re balanced and on top of your plant foot (instead of to the side or behind), you’re going to have a really good chance of that ball going where it needs to go. Guys start second guessing themselves and aiming outside uprights or putting on longer cleats. I got some of my best kicks out of the dirt infields of baseball/football stadiums when we were playing in preseason games or even early season games. It was because I was doing form. There’s no other reason. In weather conditions, if you wanted to affect your kick, then you’re thinking too hard about it. If you just do your form and trust it, the ball’s gonna go."

You mentioned thinking, which leads into the next question on the mental side of kicking. How do you get “in the zone” for a kick?
"Just by your confidence and your week of practice. Going back to your earlier question, when you get to the position where you can just focus on the form and just be relaxed about it, then you’re in the zone because there’s no threat. There’s nothing you need to worry about. The only things that get you out of that zone, or get you intimidated, are things that you let bother you. Some guys over think kicking way too much. They think they have to have the proper shoe. They think they have to have the proper equipment. All that stuff – it’s just really over thought. I think the guys that are able to be in that zone, basically doing that same kick over and over and over again, that’s essentially, in my opinion, where the zone is. If you can do the same kick over and over again, and have that be your thought process, with out worrying about where the ball goes, once again, the ball’s gonna go where supposed to go according to what you do. If you don’t let the outside influences affect how you approach each kick, and do what you know is best and what you’ve done a million times in your career (not really a million), then you have confidence. That’s where it comes from really is the confidence. If you have confidence in your form and your technique, that’s where your zone is established. The confidence and the trust in your form."

Are there any differences you see in the kicking game today as compared to when you played?
"Not really. I think guys are getting better. It’s only matter of time before they make another rule change. Guys are starting to really be taught by the proper coaches in the right way to kick. I don’t really see anything different from when I played, except maybe the playing fields. There’s a lot of the artificial surfaces now. I had the old school astroturf that I used to play on. Now they have the new FieldTurf. I think that is something that is important for kickers because you don’t have divots, the field conditions are going to always be the same, and footing is going to be the same regardless of where you are on the field."

You mentioned rule changes that directly impacted kickers. You started in the NFL prior to the K-ball rule… how much is truth and how much is rumor regarding the stories of doctored balls prior to the introduction of the K-ball?
"I’ve heard all the rumors on things that guys did. It really is matter of least giving the kickers an opportunity to at least have something. In baseball they don’t bring out a brand new baseball on every pitch. They get to scuff it up or work it in a little bit. It’s the same thing with footballs. There were rumors of them dropping weights on them and things like that. We would just throw some air in them, and basically expand the seams. That was the extent of what we used to do. That’s one of the toughest thing about kicking a brand new football. They’re almost like square. The seams are really pointy. It’s not really a smooth ball by any means. They don’t go real far. The balls, from what I’ve heard, are better these days than what they were when they first had that rule. For whatever reason the game balls were really bad. I remember my first experience with a new K-ball. It was not good. It was a very scary experience. You talk about all that trust and all that confidence when you’re kicking, and then it more or less gets thrown out the door. When the referee hands you the ball to kickoff and you see all this shiny material on the ball, and you see that the seams are not flat (they’re all bumpy) – it’s not a good feeling at all."

This interview sponsored by the National Combine Series.

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