the study of the kicking components within sports

Monday, June 20, 2011

Nick Folk: Soccer, Football, and Little Bit of Hip

So far, Nick Folk's kicking story has touched on the six corners of the world: California (Notre Dame HS in Sherman Oaks), Germany (dual citizenship), England (Manchester United), Arizona (University of), Dallas (Cowboys), and New York (Jets). We recently had a chance to speak with Nick regarding those and points in between.

What is your earliest recollection of kicking a ball?
“I was playing soccer growing up. I remember kicking the ball (soccer) around with my dad when I was little. Then I started playing when I was four. Early on I got the nickname of “thunder leg” from one of my other team mates when I was little, because I could always kick the ball pretty far.”

When or how did you transition from soccer over to football?
“Going into high school I didn’t know may people. I knew one guy (he’s actually the backup catcher for the Florida Marlins right now)… I played soccer with him growing up and he was going to my high school as well, and he was gonna go play football. I said, ‘well, I guess I could try kicking and see how that goes’. I ended up kicking. After the first 45 minutes of practice after they had special teams, then I’d go to soccer practice. That was how I did it my whole high school career.”

What was the hardest part about learning to kick a football after having started with soccer?
“It wasn’t too bad. We were using those big tees and blocks in high school, so it would get up for you pretty nicely. The hardest transition for me actually was the summer before I was going to college. I didn’t really transition to that little one inch block for a long time or ever... I went from the big two inch one straight to the ground. I think that was the toughest transition, but it didn’t take long… just a couple minor adjustments here and there, and that was really it.”

Was there anything from soccer that you had to unlearn when switching over to football?
“No, but if I were to go play soccer now I’d definitely have to re-teach myself how to kick a soccer ball.”

I saw in your Wikipedia bio that you’re still an avid soccer fan. Were they correct?
 “Yes, yes. I’m a big Manchester United fan. When I was in high school I went over with the ODP team from Cal South, and we actually got to train at Manchester United’s indoor facility. We got a private tour of Old Trafford. Ever since then I’ve been a Manchester United fan. I watch as many games as I can. I watched the Championship Final the other week. I’m a dual citizen of Germany and the United States, so I’m a big German soccer fan too for the national team. When the U.S. is playing I watch and hope they do well. If the U.S were to ever play Germany, I’d root for the United States, but if Germany wins it’s not a bad deal.”

Switching back to football: looking back over your entire career so far, does a particular kick come to mind as your biggest kick?
“I’d have to say the one in Indy that won a playoff game. We were down. It’s not a tie ball game where if you miss, ‘oh well’. We’re down by two with three seconds left at the end of the game. To keep us going in the playoffs, I’d have to say that one as of right now. That was probably the biggest, most important kick of my career… to keep us going and get all the way to the AFC Championship Game.”

A couple questions regarding your hip surgery the other year. Since it seems that is becoming a somewhat common occurrence amongst kickers, could you share any thoughts and insights that might be of interest to other kickers out there, starting with the time just prior to the surgery?
“Just make sure you get it checked out by a hip specialist if you have any hip problem, because I had it checked out by a bunch of doctors and they told me, ‘we don’t really know what we’re looking at’. They all told me ‘well, we can tell you don’t have a torn labrum’. Then I sent my MRIs to two hip specialists and they said, ‘oh yea, I can see it [a torn labrum] very clearly’. I could have had the surgery a lot sooner, and could have been a lot more prepared for that last year in Dallas. I ended up getting two weeks to prepare before training camp. Everything happens for a reason, and I’m a big believer in that. I had a great year up in New York. I had a lot of fun and met a lot of new people. It’s a great organization, playing for the Jets, and I’m hoping we can keep that going.”

Any insights from the rehab process after the surgery?
“I pushed it pretty good. I had surgery twelve weeks from the day that we were starting training camp. If I would have had [the surgery] in say January, I could have pushed it a little bit just to get back as quick as possible, but I wouldn’t have pushed the kicking part of it. Other than that it was pretty smooth rehab process....
The joint itself where they cut the muscle open, to repair it they have to overlap it and make it a little tighter, a little stronger. The biggest thing was getting the strength back in my leg and then getting the flexibility back. That’s part of any hip surgery, or any surgery in general, where you have to get the strength back and the stretching. Other than that it was a pretty smooth process. I followed the book that they gave me and just kept going as best as I could.”

Switching from the physical side over to the mental side of kicking, they often mention that kicking is 80% or even 90%mental. What comes to mind when you hear that?
“I think a lot of that is true. A lot of it is mental because you’re trying to tell yourself swing paths like in golf. If you’re working on something, you have to remember to do that. When I go out there I try to keep it more mental during practice, so that’s what I’m working on then. During the games I try to just really not have it be mental at all. Just go out there, walk everything out, let everything go, and then just go kick the ball. I work on a lot of that stuff during practice to really hone in my mental skills and hone in the things I’m working on then. In the games I go out there in pre-game and figure out what the wind, or the weather, or the turf is doing. Then during the game there’s no real thinking involved. It’s just, ’Okay, from here I’m going to kick the ball at that particular spot’. That’s all I’m really thinking about.”

Looking ahead to this year, is there anything in particular you’ve been working on or how are you going about preparing for the hopeful season?
“I’m preparing like I’m playing for the New York Jets, so I’m training like I’m going to be playing up there. As far as the kicking part goes, I’m just kicking with my kicking coach a couple times a month. I go out with him and teach at his camps, and then I’ll also get instruction from him during the camps as well. I’m just kicking away. I think the new kickoff rule isn’t really gonna affect the way I kick, but now you can have a little different strategy as far as the different types of kicks. You can hit some pop kicks to different areas. Teams might be a little more likely to try a few more surprise onsides. I’m trying to figure out a couple different surprise onsides and working on those. Other than that I just keep kicking. I fee pretty comfortable with the way I’ve been kicking. Just trying to stay strong and stay healthy.”

Special thanks to Nick's agent, Chuck Vine of The Titan Group, for arranging this interview.

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