Sports science: AFL players should practice kicking far more often

By Clint Youlden

I’m a sports scientist who specialises in biomechanics. As a sports scientist who’s interested in footy, it destroys me to see the lack of effort that AFL players put into practising kicking.

I heard Matthew Richardson say that “players would have 40 to 50 shots on goal a week … but you can’t replicate the 50,000-plus fans during training (that you encounter during a game).”

Is it just me, or does this seem a little whiny? For starters, 40 to 50 shots, along with at least a hundred handballs, should be taken every day!

As a professional athlete, you have no excuse but to work and improve at the things you are paid to do.  These guys are professional and therefore have the time to spare for these specific things. What seems to be common practice is in fact a lack of practice.

I’m pretty sure soccer players never train with those huge crowds. American football and rugby league place-kickers wouldn’t get 30,000 to a training session either, and they don’t seem to have any problems. So how can we accept Richo’s statement as anything more than just an excuse to be lazy?

Basketballer Andrew Gaze has often commented on the lack of kicking practice footballers do. He mentioned that he would take around 200 to 300 shots per day!

Obviously a basketball shot requires less effort than a 30 to 50-metre drop punt, but I would at least assume that a professional footballer has the time to boot at least 200 to 300 shots a week total.

Every week we hear about inaccurate kicking. Many things are blamed, but it’s simply about a player’s amount of practice (or lack of). Why doesn’t the coaching staff get serious about programming daily timeslots for kicking? It can’t be that difficult.

Studies have shown that accuracy in footy is no better than 20 years ago, which highlights the lack of professionalism and development in some areas of the game.

I recently read a study that compared the playing differences of three groups of pianists. Group one players were identified as having the potential to play professionally; group two players were very good but would never play professionally, and group three players had no chance of being professional.

Out of all the factors that separated the groups, there was only one difference: the amount of practice put in up until the time of the study. The study quoted an “hours of total practice” figure — 10,000 hours — as the major determinant on whether the pianist would play professionally. Players in the second and third groups had only clocked up 7,000 and 4,000 total hours of practice respectively.

So no matter how talented any given individual was on the piano, the sole indicator of their performance was the amount of practice they had done.

Now I’m not suggesting that an AFL player should practice 24/7 because kicking requires a lot more physical effort than piano playing. But it makes me wonder if there is any critical “hours of practice” figure for a footballer to be able to kick the ball with great accuracy.

As far as I can see, no current player is reaching anywhere near his potential to kick the ball straight on a regular basis. And it would seem that, just like everything else in life, a lot of practice is required if excellence is to be achieved.

cannonballspeedunit@hotmail.com

About Clint Youlden

Clint Youlden is a High Performance Sports Scientist that specializes in the biomechanics/coaching and training of speed and is also the inventor (and patent holder) of a training method that simultaneously increases all aspects of athletic performance. He deals with skill acquisition, training, nutrition, supplementation, and recovery of athletes. You can contact him on 0402 498 798 or at cannonballspeedunit@hotmail.com

Comments

  1. I’ve been told by footy coaches and fitness coaches that they don’t like their players to spend heaps of hours kicking the football because of the jarring it can cause, which could lead to groin, quad, and even back related hamstring problems. Not sure if this has been scientifically proven, but it makes some sense.

    It might be similar to the theory as to why sprinters don’t spend countless hours practising their starts (they spend a lot of time but not hours on end) – the starting puts a lot of pressure on quads, hammys etc. so it needs to be managed.

  2. By the way – you any relation to the Youlden who ran at Stawell some years back?

  3. The Cannonball says:

    Dips, I can appreciate your point about the jarring and injury concerns, but surely the professional level can manage that pretty easily. All you would have to do is start at a low level of kicks and gradually build up week by week (especially in the off-season) until a good and sustainable level is reached.

    I am the same person who ran at Stawell, and I can comment quite professionally about the starts of sprinters. You can do starts everyday if you build up to it. They are basically no different from a regular standing start as far as physical pressure goes, they are just a little bit faster due to the blocks. But to agree with your point, I wouldn’t start doing 30 starts a day everyday if that was my goal, I would start with 5 a day and build up week by week until I got to that level. I have previously done training that included up to 10 block starts per day without any problems, but maybe comparing the two is too difficult to begin with.

    To finish, I don’t think we are asking professional footballers to kick 200-300 50-60m shots a week, even I agree those maximal efforts are too much but 20-40m shots should be able to be done all day long, the are only around 50% effort. Even you and I could do that.

  4. Cannonball – don’t know about you but a 40m kick is a long bomb for me! I reckon I would strain neck muscles kicking from that far out!

  5. Good to see your on the forum and starting off with such a thought provoking topic cannon! If anything, the only exception I would make with goal kicking practise, is that, especially with the case of Richo, he needs to practise more when he’s in a fatigued state. This is because the majority of his set shots during a game are after he’s completed a maximal intensity effort, either a strong marking contest or an all out lead. I would imagine he wouldn’t miss nearly as many set shots when he trains because he’s relatively fresh, but as you know, it’s a different ball game when fatigued. I’d be more keen to advocate that he could combine some of his fitness training with his skill training and practise shots after he’s say, completed some speed work.. would love to hear your thoughts..

  6. The Cannonball says:

    Or maybe the threat of a hamstring pull is always in the back of your mind… I know that’s what stops me from seeing how far I can kick!

  7. Clint, I think your comments are spot on. When I got to a game these days I marvel at some of things the players can do. Incredibly quick “get-out” handballs and kicks from tight situations, correct disposal when being tackled and swung, these things have improved out of sight in the last 20 years. And shots at goal from the boundary in general play – we are getting at least one goal a week that in the eighties would have been a certainty for goal of the year. Why? Because all these scenarios are practised ad nauseum. But not set shots!

    You are correct about the lack of accuracy improvement. The stats pretty much back it up. And when you think about the fact that the grounds are nowhere near as slippery or muddy as they once were AND the fact that a quarter of games a played in an INDOOR stadium with no wind, it’s actually an indictment on this aspect of the game.

    Any club that makes the decision to tackle this issue directly will steal a break on the other teams.

    Gigs

  8. The Cannonball says:

    I think you are right on the money there Tav. The closer you can get to a game situation in kicking practice the better, be it fatigue, concentration, after a lead, after multiple leads, etc. And what you may have to be aware of concentrating on closely (as far as kicking technique) if you are quite fatigued. It would be interesting to see if 20 seconds to recover from a lead and kick would significantly affect kicking accuracy, maybe one for the statisticians to look at. I’m not sure how much accumulative fatigue over a game plays a role in accuracy also- would be a good study to do though or even ask some current players if they feel they drop off in accuracy towards the final siren compared to the first quarter, but personally I don’t think that would be a factor.

    What I think is something worth taking notice of is the role the subconscious plays in goal kicking. Quite often I see that a player awarded a “controversial” free kick close to goal quite often misses an easy one. Could this be due to, deep down he actually knows he didn’t deserve the free-kick and therefore his sub-conscious alters his kicking mechanics and causes him to miss?

    I know its out there a bit, but take note of some of those situations in the future and see if we can support or squash it!

  9. Pamela Sherpa says:

    I’d make Richo kick 10 in a row every night before he left training.

  10. Hey Cannon, a few interesting points there.. Given that at the elite level goal kicking accuracy could be the difference between a top 4 and bottom 4 finish, it’s amazing to think clubs don’t invest more strategies and ideas on how to greatly improve in this area. I know that in the early 90’s North Melbourne used to practise ALL their goal kicking (set shots, on the run, etc) with goal posts that were only 4m apart (goal posts are 6.4m apart), in the hope that this would improve their goal kicking accuracy, but they found no difference on game day. They also put this down to the added pressure of the crowd.

  11. The Cannonball says:

    Tav, nice move from North there to squeeze the posts together. Maybe the crowd has a bigger impact than we think on the players? However, I would suggest that is one of the skills/prerequisites to being an elite player of the competition… blocking out the crowd, performing under pressure etc. There’s got to be something we are all missing or is it just the public being soft on them?

    Here’s one for you…. Does growing up and playing in front of decent crowds at the junior levels prepare you for the crowds at the elite level? Do you have to develop the skill of kicking with a crowd? Let’s face it, you wont see any more than 5 people behind the goals at a VFL match so maybe its a learned skill that can only be developed once you get to the AFL, and by that time, you are in your 20’s and skill acquisition is much harder to learn.

    I compare it to place kickers in the NFL who have the luxury of playing every week in high school (2000 people) and college (20,000 people) before they get to play in the NFL in front of 40-50,000 people and television audiences. Has to be an advantage.

  12. Clint, I couldn’t agree with you more. Also as a biomechanist who has worked in the field for over 20 years I am concerned about the lack of kicking practice footy players get. Following is part of a recent discussion I had with some colleagues about the current kicking malaise.

    The prime aim of footy is to outscore the opposition. Therefore kicking goals and to a lesser extent points is a function of this aim. As such if players don’t practice kicking accurately then one could argue teams are being negligent in their preparation. For so called team balance and preparation players need to be well prepared in all aspects of the game, but naturally due to time demands, injury concerns and egos some compromises have to be made. My argument is if scoring is the main aim of the game then this aspect has to be the main emphasis. Sure teams have to be able to mark, handball and run, but if they can’t kick they won’t win, e.g. Fevola at times, Cameron Mooney at any time.

    For too long the staff responsible for preparing players have limited the amount of kicking players do due to injury concerns. While this is legitimate to a certain extent my response would be the key players of the team who take most of the shots at goal should reduce the amount of running they do so as they can kick more. Skill is major factor in performance not necessarily running. The experiment of selecting or drafting so called athletes over skilled players didn’t prove successful and now the swing is going back the other way if it’s not there all ready and rightfully so.

    I say reclaim footy from the running coaches and take it back to a skill-based emphasis game.

  13. i agree proffesional footballers should practise kicking more often as i am only young(in my teens) and wanting to be a sports scientists for the west coast eagles :)i do think that kicking is what that lets down some footballers.

  14. I use to kick for rugby punts, goal kicking and found that practice made everything better. Kick a few Afl balls around for about 4 hours and eventually got 50m easy. Its all about timing not exertion.

    The harder you try to kick a ball the more control you lose to where that ball is going to land. So pulling a hamstring would be rare if you kicked correctly. Truly after 200 kicks using an AFL ball I was able to gain anything from 40 to 60m. Now that is having time to balance and prepare myself. The AFL ball goes like a bullet through the air if it is kicked correctly and sweetly.

    Like hitting a cricket ball in the right spot of the bat it flies if your timing and skill is right on. Trouble is that it took about 300 kicks before I was able to gain 50 to 60m. I suppose and I don’t know this but the closer you get to the goals the more players there are that can kick goals.

    Relying on one or two players to kick big is more risky for a coach then having 5 to 6 players kicking 30m goals. Like soccer the closer you get all the players to the goals the more chance you have of scoring. Net ball approach rather then the basketball approach. Anyone follow basketball. If so do they score most of their points with 2 pointer or 3 pointer shots.

  15. Huge golf fan here. Thanks for the post. I’m going to bookmark your blog and check back often.

  16. Just read a book on punting in American Gridiron. They recommend their kickers do 50 kicks a day, but only 4-5 days a week. Granted that would be ‘effort’ kicks so it is possibly slightly different to kicking in AFL. But one thing I found interesting was they also trained their kickers in the warning signs prior to injury so they know when to pull back on their training. Don’t know if we’ve ever done any of that in our game…

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