Dangerous Times When You Are Thinking About Football

by David Mapleston

A sports psychologist once told me the two best ways to put someone off their goal kicking. The first way is to ask them a question as they are running in to kick. The theory is, their mind can’t help but respond and therefore they aren’t completely focused on kicking straight. The second trick is to simply tell them what side of the goals they are going to miss on, therefore making them subconsciously focus on a new target outside the goals.

This was dangerous knowledge in the right hands, but I haven’t played in the backline for years and so I am rarely in ear shot when opposition players line up for goal. This occurrence is so rare in fact, I can only remember one time when I’ve actually made use of the secret knowledge. In 2004 and 2005 I played footy in Canberra for Eastlake Football Club. I played in the ruck quite regularly and one day found myself on the mark after an opposition mid-fielder snuck forward and got on the end of the footy. As he placed the ball on the ground to pull up his right sock I said , “Your gonna miss this to the right. You’ll just push this one across the face. Straight to the RIGHT. ” I was sure to emphasise the right side of the goals at least twice. There was no response.

If he wasn’t thrown off by the comments, he was at least doing a great impression of a man in deep concentration. The Northern Eagles of the Queensland Football League call this intense look, ‘hard eyes.’ I have it on good authority that several of their senior players used to stalk around the rooms pre-game saying “hard eyes boys, get your ‘hard eyes’ on.” They have now folded and I can only hope ‘hard eyes’ went down with the ship. 

On this day in Canberra we were playing Western Creek. They were the easy beats of the competition, and are another club that has now folded. They had a reputation for not taking footy too seriously. Apparently it was more of a social club. Still, as this guy eyed the goals, sorry ‘hard eyed’ the goals, he did seem very focused, not at all thinking about the possibility of pushing the kick to the right.

He started on his run up with controlled steps towards goals. The next trick in my arsenal was the off-putting question. With the culture of Western Creek in mind and time running out, I blurted, “did you go out on the piss last night dude?”  As he guided the ball down, making a perfect connection with the ball, he actually answered my question with a proud and assured “Fucken oath.” I turned to watch the ball. It was a gun barrel straight drop punt on an unerring trajectory to the right of the goal. I felt like Yoda. “Miss to the right you will.” Out on the piss you have been?” “Stupid comments you will make.”

I could lie and say these tricks always work. After all, I’ve got a perfect strike rate. However, some individuals and some teams are ready to be distracted from the task at hand. That player was not lying when he told me mid-kick that he had been out drinking the night before. Hence, there were no surprises when his team fell apart after half time and we ran all over them like every other team did that year. They were ready to be beaten every week. That was there mentality and it showed in their actions on and off the field.

On the weekend we had our third loss of the season. Subiaco sits on 3 wins and 3 losses and to make matters worse we have a bye next week. This gives us an extra seven days to stew on the mistakes of Monday’s game against East Perth. Every memory I have of the game; flashes of sickeningly half-hearted contests, poor disposals and lazy decisions are still making my stomach churn. We are not professional footballers. We go back to work and have other distractions to take our minds off the stuff-ups and embarrassing moments, but the feeling does not disappear. And it’s odd. It’s only a game after all, but footballers are funny creatures and whether we play at the highest level or not, we are still our own harshest critics. We cop abuse from the stands, and sometimes we deserve it, but it is no comparison to our own evaluation of the way we played. At the end of the game our supporters stand and clap us off the ground regardless of the score. They applaud us for the contest, for the fight back and for the heartbreak of getting ‘so close.’ That’s when the flashbacks begin. The turnovers, the missed tackles, soft contests and you wish they would stop applauding because it was rubbish and deep down they must know it too.

For Subiaco the moping ends this week. Our fitness coach Scotty Burrough made a good point and it is really close to the same ideas about performance that came from that sports psychologist with the kooky ideas on distracting opposition players. Winning and playing well are skills you learn. Good form or bad form are just meaningless words. We need to re-learn and re-train the skills of being desperate for the footy, reckless in the contest and consequently, a winning team. That’s our job from this point onwards. We’ll find out in two weeks if we are dinkum about getting it done.






  1. Damian O'Donnell says

    Dave – interesting stuff, conditioning the mind of the kicker into error. One time playing veterans footy our CHF took a grab and was told to “kick it to the hot spot” in the goal square as he was too far out to score. Unfortunately he only managed to kick it to his direct opponent on the mark. Perhaps subconsciously the “hot spot” was his opponents nuts?

  2. Craig Little says

    Having played most of my middling suburban football career in the back-pocket, I can attest that asking the player lining up for goal if he “breathes in or out when he kicks” has a better-than-fifty-percent strike rate…

  3. Kik Coach says

    The text book would tell you to go back, run in and kick directly over the mark for goal. But then surely it follows that a thinking marker should stand between the kicker and the behind post. I’m sure that is what happens every time Cam Mooney lines up. His ability to kick a point is uncanny to the extent that I think he would be a sport’s psychologists dream patient. Also in the front row of the ‘dream team’ class would be Chris Tarrant (mercifully moved to the back line)and in his heyday, Jarred ‘Truck’ Molloy who’s exploits from the goal square are legendary.
    Yes a lot can be said about kicking for goal and I wonder if statistics would show that the longer the time spent lining up, the lower the chance of success. I’m reminded of that great movie ‘Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid and the scene where Sundance has to prove he can shoot to get a job minding a gold shipment. When he tries hard with a set shot he just misses the beer can. The employer is sufficiently impressed but Butch asks if the Kid can have a 2nd chance with a fast draw. So of course he does his usual thing, draws and blasts the can, after which Butch explains “he’s always better when he moves”.

Leave a Comment