the study of the kicking components within sports

Friday, August 17, 2012

Mind Over Foot, part 6: Visualization

Kicking is 90% mental. 
Less is more. 
Seeing is believing. 
Believing you're seeing is more or less 90% of the answer.

One technique that some NFL kickers use to hone their skills is to practice kicking to the narrow goal posts as found in the various arena and indoor leagues. Chargers' kicker Nate Kaeding is one them:
"I've been doing it since freshman year in college. It helps. It's kind of a mental trick, you know, if you can kick them through the small ones you can definitely kick them through the big ones."
Although reluctant at first, Broncos' kicker Matt Prater eventually saw the bigger picture of the smaller goal posts:
"At first, I'd line up and the farther back I went, they looked like toothpicks....You've got to hit it perfect because if you're off by a little bit, it might go through the regular uprights but on those it looks like it's way off. So, it's good practice. It's good for visualization. You carry that over into a game."
Visualization? What exactly did Matt mean by that, and why is it good? Joe Friel and Chuck Graziano touched on the importance of visualization in their article Avoiding the Dark Side: Improving Performance by Training the Mind
"Practicing mentally can be enormously effective when coupled with good physical training. Studies have shown that creating a mental vision of yourself competing can have a direct result on your performance. According to the experts, some people naturally visualize themselves from the inside, seeing an image as if they were racing. Some see themselves as others would, as if they were watching a videotape of themselves. Irrespective of which type of vision you normally create, practicing in your mind, or visualizing successful performance can have a positive impact on results."

Retired kicker Morton Andersen visualized his way to scoring more points than any other player in NFL history. Back in 1999 while he was still playing, he discussed his process:
"I got my target. I looked through...all the arms waving, but there were no distractions. I was very single-minded of purpose, really. I felt very comfortable...

I don't know if you guys believe this, but visualization - if you do it enough - is a very powerful thing. Your mind is so powerful, it tells the body what to do.

I've trained for many years now. My mind is pretty well trained to do what I want it to do. That's what I rehearse. That's what I take pride in. That's a big part of my routine. My dominant response came to the forefront when I needed it, and that was a positive response."
Former NFL kicker Doug Brien still firmly believes in the importance of the mental aspect of kicking. His website elaborates on the fundamental roles of visualization and concentration:
"There are two things that I recommend working on to improve the mental game. First, is visualization or positive thinking. This is simply seeing yourself performing well. By spending 10 to 15 minutes a day, closing your eyes and watching yourself make kick after kick, you can make a real improvement. The more real you can make these situations in your head the better. Feeling the crowd noise and the pressure of the situation and then calmly making your kick, helps to raise your confidence and your ability to be positive and successful when these situations come up in a game. Concentration drills are also very helpful in improving your mental game.

If you tried visualization than you have actually already done some serious concentrating. Visualizing a successful kick is only possible with intense concentration. It is very easy to let distracting thoughts into your head and ruin the positive effect of visualizing. A good drill to practice specifically on concentration is simply to stare at a football. The idea is to get to know the "sweet spot" (the ideal place to make contact) on the ball. The drill is to literally stare at the sweet spot on the ball. When totally focused on that spot, think about how it feels to make solid contact with that spot. How it feels to hit the sweet spot and send the ball right down the middle of the uprights. After doing this exercise for 5-10 minutes a day, you will eventually be able to see positive images of kicking just by concentrating on the "sweet spot" of the ball. After getting more advanced I recommend doing this drill during practice or even during a game to get yourself focused on what you have to do. The ability to concentrate without letting any interfering thoughts enter your mind is the secret to successful kicking. Both of the drills I have discussed are very helpful in improving your mental game. I have done extensive work to improve my mental game."
There are various approaches to learning to visualize a kick mentally. One way is to literally block out one's eyesight. Earlier this year, one of the Sydney Swans' coaches had Australian kicker Lewis Jetta practice blindfolded.
"It is a bit different but you get used to it and then you transfer it all into what you do when you open your eyes. It's about teaching you how to be more relaxed when you're kicking and going through the whole process. You need to be able to relax with your eyes closed and then it's easier with your eyes open. Instead of trying to kick the goal, it's just a matter of letting it happen. I tried it once [and missed] and then I tried it again and it went straight through. It's been going good so far and I've been kicking goals with it. And it's been working for me when I've got my eyes open too."

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