B MB DISPOSAL How to extend your kicking
BIG LAUNCH: Luke Hodge prepares to send the Hawks long. Run Home IF 10 x 7.pdf 13/02/2012 4:08:27 PM
LONG kick is a key skill in footy. If a player is consistently precise with his distance kicking it can set him apart and multiply career options too. Defenders like the Hawks’ Luke Hodge and the Bulldogs’ Lindsay Gilbee have a massive ability to generate play from the backline with their distance kicking ability. And few can forget the thumping kicks of players Anthony Rocca, Dustin Fletcher and Matthew Lloyd. It makes for great footy. The ability to accurately kick over 60 metres gives a player more options as he has more targets to choose from, while a long accurate kick can make for a fast turnover and also allow goal scoring from greater distances. Distance kicking is a skill that, like any other, can be improved with the right approach to training. When discussing distance kicking, I’m talking drop punt, not torpedo. The torp, with its spiralling motion, certainly has less air resistance as it travels high and long but it is a more difficult kick when it comes to accuracy due to lateral ball movement during flight – plus it’s a more difficult ball to mark. A drop punt is an automatic skill that requires minimal conscious thought, especially where there is little time for disposal. It’s well worth exploring the biomechanics of the skill to aid in understanding which parts of the skill contribute most to distance. For advice on kicking biomechanics and distance kick training, no-one is better qualified than Dr Kevin Ball, lecturer in sports biomechanics at Victoria University and the current Australian Institute of Sport AFL kicking coach, the Melbourne Storm kicking coach,
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Science is exploring the art of the long kick and how to develop it, writes DR JODI RICHARDSON. and consultant to several AFL clubs. His research has led to some important insights into the fundamentals of a distance kick and how to coach it. We need to start by taking a closer look at what components of the skill are most important for distance and which ones are trainable. Dr Ball analysed high-speed video of AFL players kicking for distance and published this work in the Sports Biomechanics journal. “Foot speed is the most important factor when it comes to distance kicking followed by the speed of the lower leg at ball contact,” Dr Ball said. “In both cases, the higher the speed, the greater the distance kicked. “A longer last step was also associated with greater kick distance as was the position of the ball relative to the foot and ground.” He also found that when it comes to distance kicking, not all players are alike. “There were two strategies or styles that the players used,” he said. “One was a ‘knee strategy’ where, at ball contact, these players really snapped their knee out from a position of flexion (knee bent) to extension (knee straightening) at a high velocity. “With these players, the thigh pretty much stops then the knee extends. “With the other group, the ‘hip strategy’ group, the movement of the hip and thigh at ball contact was at high velocity and they had slower knee extension velocities compared to the other group of players. “From a distance point of view, neither style was more effective than the other.” Interestingly, Dr Ball noticed that the players who had a “hip strategy” tended to have more hip injuries but the evidence for this remains anecdotal. In addition to these key features of a good distance kick, Dr Ball said there was a speed-accuracy trade-off. “There is some research showing that about 80 per cent of a player’s maximum running speed is best for kicking accuracy, and above that speed accuracy declines.” A great outcome of this research are the coaching recommendations that any footballer can introduce into their training, from grass roots level through to AFL. Dr Ball begins by explaining there is a strong conditioning element to kicking. X you want to improve “If
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your distance kicking, you have to do the conditioning for kicking but it needs to be graded,” he said. “It’s not like you can go into the gym and immediately start lifting 150kg, you have to build up to it, and it’s the same with kicking training. “People tend to have problems when their training is inconsistent or they do too much too early.” A structured kicking program doesn’t take a lot of training time as only a handful of repetitions are necessary to gain improvement over time. Dr Ball suggests kick to kick as the most efficient drill. Three to five kicks are all that are needed to begin with, starting with a distance of around 40 metres between players. In subsequent training sessions, increase distance by five metres per session so the session two distance is 45m, session three distance is 50m and then from session four onwards, kick for maximum distance between the players. He recommends doing this in the preseason and building up to a maximum of eight kicks, but dropping back to a maintenance program of three maximum kicks during the season to reduce the risk of injury. Another study Dr Ball conducted investigated the use of weighted balls for improving kicking distance. He compared three groups of AFL players on kicking distance over a fourweek program. Group 1 used regulation balls, Group 2 used regulation and weighted balls (balls soaked in water to increase ball weight from 450g to 500g), and Group 3 was the control group. “A lot of track and field athletes train while trailing heavy implements to improve their distance; other sports use this technique too,” he said. “Because the foot’s impact with the ball is so brief, conditioning for it is tricky so we tried the training with weighted balls. “Both the groups that practised distance kicking over the four weeks of the study improved their kicking distance by quite a lot. “The distance of the group using the weighted balls came out higher, with an improvement of 5.6 metres, but there wasn’t a statistical difference between the two. “I think if the intervention were to have run for longer, say eight to 10 weeks, the distance kicking with the weighted balls would be significantly longer than the group using regulation balls.” Dr Ball emphasises that to avoid inju-
ry, when training with weighted balls, keep the volume low (eight kicks maximum) as the intensity of the activity is high. The program suggested above could incorporate the use of weighted balls with care. “A good solid leg weights program, building a strength foundation is also another key point for improving distance kicking,” Dr Ball said. “It’s very difficult to mimic the kick itself. The actual foot contact with the ball occurs over a very short 1/100th of a second but the force measured in that time can be up to 100 kg. “A good basic weights program including squats and cleans can be very good provided you’ve got your technique right. “Explosive type training is good but you need to build up to incorporating this type of training over time.” It’s imperative that anyone looking to improve their strength for kicking gets the right advice from a professional who can develop a personal progressive strength program. As a summary, the most important points to consider for improved distance kicking are increased speed of the foot, increased speed of the lower leg, a bigger last step, keeping the foot rigid on ball contact and ball position higher off the ground and further in front of the player at ball contact. Dr Ball explains that ball position at foot contact is an optimal position for each player as if the ball gets too far in front, reaching will occur. If it is too high the flight path of the ball will be too verti-
cal, reducing distance kicked. Interestingly, studies on the aerodynamics of an Aussie rules football have led to a suggestion by Associate Professor Firoz Alam, an aerospace engineer, that the Sherrin could do with some redesigning to improve its aerodynamics. Having conducted extensive research at RMIT University in Melbourne, Alam suggested in an article by Chris Johnston in The Age in 2010 that the flight of the ball would be more predictable if the seams were moulded, the stitching concealed and the laces and bladder port flush with the ball. He estimated that kicking accuracy could be improved by as much as 15 per cent. Some big names in football are renowned for their powerful kicks, and many, are in fact big names directly because of that particular skill. Western Bulldog Pat Veszpremi, a renowned long kick, believes that although trainable to a point, this is the sort of skill that’s genetic. “You can always build your accuracy by your actions but I think having that penetrating kick is something that you’re born with,” Veszpremi said. “You can work on it but you’re either going to be like a Nathan Buckley or you’re not. “Some players can’t kick over 40 metres but others can kick 60 easily. “I think a lot of it’s got to do with
I look at our on and off-field development and we are a long way ahead of where we were when we started in 2009. – Damien Hardwick on Hungry For Sport
n EFFORTLESS: Lindsay Gilbee.
‘O nl y a ha nd fu l of re pe ti ti on s ar e ne ce ss ar y to ga in im pr ov em en t. ’ the timing. Sometimes you see blokes trying to kick the leather off the footy and they spray it. “You see other guys like Lindsay Gilbee, for instance, who has such a good long kick but doesn’t even look like he’s trying. He’s not over kicking, he’s not swinging his hips all the way through, he’s just a natural. “I think there’s a mental aspect to it
too, how confident you are in your kicking ability. If a player is usually a good long kick but hasn’t been kicking well, they can lose confidence, but once you do it consistently I think it’s forever in your game.” Veszpremi emphasised that the ability to kick long and accurate was becoming increasingly important as a way of overcoming defensive strategies like zoning.
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“Nowadays teams are zoning and pressing up the field more,” he said. “Rather than chipping it around and the defenders closing you down more, it’s far better if you have a player that can kick over the zone accurately, to the advantage of your teammates. “If you can have a penetrating kick from full back, long down the line, get a contest, you can reset so you can structure the play better. “Accurate distance kicking is going to come into play a lot more now, especially with less on the bench as players will be more fatigued, especially in the last quarter.” These days, career prospects for big kickers extend beyond the limelight of the AFL, across the Pacific to the United States where a good kick can land you a handsome deal as a punter with an NFL club. Proudly, we already have a handful of Aussies in the NFL including Sav Rocca, Ben Graham and Mat McBriar. Not surprisingly, it has been reported that Lindsay Gilbee has turned down offers to do the same. Needless to say, this is the sort of opportunity that can give an AFL athlete longevity in sport, especially given the fact that NFL punters may only punt as little as three or four times a game, as opposed to experiencing the physiological demands and physicality of an AFL game. These athletes could easily be punting beyond the age of 35, significantly extending their athletic careers with the length of their kicking.