Knowing your drop kick from your screw punt: Wally Miller’s ‘Coaching the art of kicking’

Back when I was a lad, as the autumn leaves left their trees, dad would occasionally take me down to the park to teach me how to kick a footy. The one clearest in my mind is one of those light rubber balls they would sell outside of servos, next to the neatly lined up two litre bottles of Woodies lemonade and Sno Top. Ligament strainers I call them.

I don’t imagine I was an overly good student, being a soccer player and all. As I grew into my teenage years, brutalising the footy with a powerful leg was sufficient to get by in playground kick to kick. Technique was a tertiary consideration.

Now that I teach others how to kick, my technique has improved. I’m all about the no-fuss ball drop, the straight leg and the keeping of the balance. I am thankful that most of the young footballers I work with are (marginally) better pupils.

Nonetheless, at various kicking sessions over the decades, dad would occasionally unleash the dark magic of the drop kick. Growing up playing footy in the ‘50s and ‘60s the drop kick was part of his kicking repertoire. By the 1980s of my youth this kick had disappeared along with other mysterious concepts such as the stab pass, which always sounded unnecessarily violent.

So, imagine the pleasant surprise when I found this little gem hiding at the excellent Port Elliot bookshop. Wally Miller’s 1968 edition “Coaching the Art of Kicking” manual (first published in 1963) signed by Norwood captain/coach Robert Oatey. All for the bargain basement price of $3. The chap at the counter noted “I probably should charge more for this”. “Yes” I said as I handed over my $3 and sprinted out the door.

So, a quick primer for non-South Australians. Wally Miller was a Norwood footballer whose SANFL career was cut short by the effects of polio. Forced into retirement, he then went on to a very successful career as an administrator, running the club from 1970 to 1992. Miller was well known for his efforts to introduce modified rules for junior football and to modernise sports medicine within Australian Football and is a member of the SA Football Hall of Fame and a life member of the AFL.

Though not as famous as his father, Jack, Robert Oatey himself was an outstanding footballer, playing 301 games across Norwood and Sturt. Only some bloke named Barrie Robran stopped him from winning the 1968 Magarey Medal in his first season as a very young captain/coach. Between them, Miller and Oatey instigated the changes within the Norwood Football Club that led to sustained success throughout the 1970s and 1980s after a lean couple of decades.

He had a reasonable set of legs, too.

 

That old book smell

What strikes you first about the book is the production standard. Printed by McCallum Ltd at Norwood (yes, a familiar name, the business was owned by the McCallum family that produced Magarey Medallist Bill and club champion and coach Perce and after whom half of the McCallum-Tomkins medal for the SANFL Under 18s competition’s best player is named), a pretty basic binding and typesetting job is supplemented by good quality design and beautiful paper stock.

The dimpled pages provide texture as the photos of some of the top SANFL players of the 1960s provide character.

Thanks to the eagle eyed Swish Schwerdt, the presence of Murray Weideman playing for West Adelaide in this photo enables us to confirm this as the third edition of this book, published in 1968

“To be an accurate kick is the biggest factor in becoming an accomplished footballer. This fact must be stressed to all aspiring players. At the team level, even if a side is superior in most techniques, indifferent kicking can cause defeat.”

Miller tells us that a truly complete footballer must be able to execute six different kicks in two groups: the drop kicks (standard drop kick, stab pass) and the punts (screw punt, drop punt, flat punt, and checkside punt). Preferably off either foot, although the ability to execute an effective drop punt on the non-preferred is sufficient.

 

What on earth is a “screw punt”?

A quick etymology break for our non-South Australian readership. The screw punt is simply what you might call a torpedo or barrel kick. Writing in the Advertiser on 10 October 1947 Harry Kneebone suggests the kick was introduced to South Australian football just prior to World War I.

However, thanks to Trove we can trace the first use of the term “screw punt” back 35 years earlier to Victoria in 1878, in fact as used by the Age (23 September) to describe a kick in a game between Melbourne and Hotham.

The term is not first used in the South Australian press until 1885, a match between South Adelaide and Norwood at the City Ground which I’m horrified to report South won comfortably. Nonetheless, it stuck in South Australia and was not dislodged until the AFL took hold of South Australian footy in the 1990s. Sadly, torpedo or the shortened ‘torp’ is the much more commonly used term in 2019.

The checkside punt is what some of you may know as a banana, or for some inexplicable reason, BT knows as a “banananananaaaa”. Its first appearance on Trove, once again, is from Victoria – the Warragul Guardian in 1895 to be precise. It has little presence in the South Australian media outside of billiards coverage but by 1968 it is what Miller calls the kick.

Mike Sexton suggests Glenelg’s Colin Churchett brought the checkside into public imagination in the 1940s (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-02-09/colin-churchett-glenelg-football/3820436).

These days perhaps we are fortunate that having the most proficient exponent of the checkside kick playing for a South Australian team means the name lives on. And let’s face it, checkside is a much better name than banana.

 

How does one do a droppy?

First off, the fundamentals of kicking a footy haven’t changed very much. The grip:

The approach:

And the release:

But what are the fundamentals of some of the lost kicks of the game? First off, the drop kick. Miller tells us the “effective and well executed drop kick is the ultimate in kicking method. For distance, accuracy, speed of flight and ease of marking, it stands apart from other styles”.

So, why is it still not a part of the game? Well, “the drop kick cannot be kicked on wet grounds, or reliably from an unbalanced position”. ‘Reliably’ is the killer in that sentence.

In competently executing such a kick, unlike a contemporary ‘rocket’ hold for a drop punt, the drop kicker holds the ball at a 45 degree angle to expose the entire underside of the ball to the boot following release. Contact is made slightly ahead of the anchored foot. The rest is just the timing of the leg swing and ensuring balance at contact. And most importantly, land on the kicking foot. Simple really.

Up next, the stab pass. The stab pass was used as a short, low “rapid foot pass”, perfectly adapted to hit a teammate on the chest. Basically, a drop kick dropped closer to the body at a more vertical angle (dropped more like 60 degrees than the standard droppy’s 45) with an abridged follow through. The stab pass shares its cause of extinction with the drop kick with the added issue that its low trajectory also made it easier to intercept, thereby further increasing the degree of difficulty and commensurately decreasing its reliability.

 

Kicking for goal

But now for one of the crowning glories of this book. You take a mark in the forward line within kicking range of goal, but what sort of kick should you use? Well, wonder no more, thanks to Miller’s patented* (*not patented) goal kicking ready reckoner. The diagram is beautiful in its simplicity.

For someone of a generation after this book was published, it also explains why you so commonly see players in the 1970s and early 1980s kicking screw punts through from 30 metres out. At this time the kick, now used only for distance, was often preferred for its natural right to left movement, effectively opening up the face of the goal when kicking on one side of the ground.

 

Trouble shooting troubleshooting

Your drop kick more of a dribble? Screwy gone a bit screwy? Fear not, Miller also includes a useful troubleshooting guide for powerless / inaccurate kicks.

Feel free to use these two tables as a bingo card for the next AFL match you watch.

In the end, the beauty of this book rests (other than in the tactility of the paper and the simplicity of the diagrams) in capturing the art of the drop kick, stab pass and to a lesser extent the screw punt just as they begin their journey to neglect. That Miller notes the drop punt is the most reliable kick under pressure is enough to doom the rest.

It also captures a moment before Australian Rules football changes. In 1963, it’s hard to imagine the VFL morphing into a national league, even more alien the concept of full-time professional footballers bankrolled by the live television broadcast of all games. Much like the techniques of bowlers in cricket with increasing professionalism of footballers has come homogenisation of the most fundamental skill of the game – kicking.

Of course, the other fun thing about this book is that the fundamentals of kicking a drop punt have not changed. It’s still all about holding the ball correctly, leaning over the footy, guiding the ball down on the dominant side and swinging straight through the ball. Ted Whitten to Tayla Harris, the basics remain the basics. Easy as ABC…D!

Kick well, knackers, and teach others to do likewise!

 

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About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"

Comments

  1. McAlmanac says

    Some great research. Go the screwie!

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Wally smiled when I told him you had found a copy of the book.Wally is a incredible man who has just had so much influence on the game overall it is staggering ( more to come )

  3. Bill Drodge says

    Back in a time when Footy was simpler, and more enjoyable to watch!

  4. Is there a tiger rigney annex on the art of the short kick

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    As I said elsewhere Dave, this is glorious. You’ve done its contents proud. I wonder what else is still out there waiting to be found. Brilliant stuff.

  6. Great research on the history of the different kicks. Annoying they were all documented in Victoria first. But can you be sure the words meant the same thing?

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Hey Nank, no Rigney short kick, but there’s an example of his fending off skills here

    https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/how-to-play-football-don-roach-1969-not-yet-ready/

  8. Dave, I reckon I saw most of Wally’s games for the Redlegs. He had some success as a centreman before becoming a hard nosed half back. Anyone standing Wally most certainly earned every kick they got.

    I well remember his very last game. It was against North Adelaide when Don Lindner took a screamer over Wally’s back. Wally couldn’t get up and had to be taken from the ground. He was never able to play again At first it was thought that Lindner’s leap had caused the problem but it was later determined he had polio.

    Whether the back knock triggered the problem was never revealed but a most promising career was cut short. Although no longer able to play, Wally Miller became a true legend for Norwood and SA football.

    Over to you Rulebook

  9. Fantastic memories! Thank you. I remember we those plastic footies. They had really hard ends . No way I was doing a drop punt with those!

  10. You had me at Sno Top, Dave. Great piece. I can just remember drop punts in country footy, and how beautiful a nicely-executed one could be. The fizzing momentum, the accuracy, the way they seemed impossible to turf if you were a leading full forward. Brilliant.

  11. Rulebook says

    I have interviewed,Wally for a upcoming article be a while before it goes on the footy almanac ( it’s complicated ) I am about half way thru and it was eventually determined that the accidental knock re
    Don Linder caused injury

  12. Mighty fine piece Dave. Thanks. My favourite is the diagram of the ground with the appropriate kick for each sector.

  13. Dave Brown says

    Thanks for the read and comments, folks. Glad it has brought back some fond memories. Looking forward to your article, Rulebook.

    Thanks Swish (and thanks for your detective work).

    6% no can’t be sure, particularly given how early the screw punt reference is. The game was very different in 1878.

    It’s a remarkable career he had Fisho. Can’t think of one like it.

    Thanks Walter. The one’s I am thinking of are not the hard plastic but light, soft rubber. They had so little weight to them that you could hyperextend your knee kicking them if you weren’t careful.

    Thanks Mickey. Not sure I ever got to see a drop kick executed live in a game. At least it lives on in the rugbies and soccer I suppose… and youtube

  14. Reckon Bob Shearman May have been the best exponent of the drop kick I ever saw. Stab pass too, although Lindsay Head was also pretty good. Jack Oatey revived the checkside punt in those late 1960’s Grand Finals, along with the checkside ruckman.

    Admire Wally Miller greatly, but suggest to think of one like it, Dave, one could consider Big Bob McLean of the Swampies? Very similar longevity in administration, kept the convict settlers of Victoria at bay for many a long day in the cause of South Australian football.

  15. Wally’s choice of Robert Oatey to demonstrate the various style of kicks was quite inspirational. Robert (I knew him as “Woff” whist we were students at Norwood High) had all the kicking skills and was also an exceptional handballer. It was quite sad when he lost his coaching job to Bob Hammond at the end of ’73 as he had actually matured in the position and had the Legs up and firing.

    Getting back to Wally Miller, I always felt, rightly or wrongly, that the kick in the back he received from the high flying Don Lindner gave him a weak spot which allowed the polio germ to penetrate but obviously, I’m not a doctor. To his immense credit, Wally never let his legs’ problems stop him from his remarkable achievements.

    I’m really looking forward to Rulebook posting his profile on Wally Miller – I’m sure it will be a must read for the Almanacers.

  16. Wonderful piece of history and research Dave. As Bucko says the checkside punt was popularised by Jack Oatey in those beautiful teams of the mid/late 60’s. Peter Endersbee (one of the first tall rovers) and Keith Chessell (a mobile second ruck in the Richmond mould) were deadly from the deep pockets at Adelaide Oval. Lindsay Head had no left foot and he would often use a dinky little checkside pass when caught on his wrong side.
    In the 60’s nearly every player was one-sided with their kicking. Bruce Light at Port Adelaide and Bob Skilton in the VFL are the first I can remember who were equally as good with both feet.

  17. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Terrific piece, Dave. I’m so glad that my brother taught me how to kick a drop and a torp. ‘Lazy leg action’ was often a hindrance, however.

  18. Roger Lowrey says

    Great work Dave. The last AFL drop kick I can recall was Bruce Lindner on the Moorabool St wing at Kardinia Park circa late 1980s.

  19. Luke Reynolds says

    Brilliant Dave. Of course, checkside is a far better name than banana.
    Kicking the footy as a kid in the 1980’s with my old man, he was all about the ‘stab pass’. Didn’t like how hard the ball was fired in my direction!
    Jaidyn Stephenson’s torp/screw punt goal last week has been my highlight of the 2019 season so far!

  20. You must have been thrilled to find a nugget like this in a bookstore, Browny!

    Re the checkside punt: my dad always taught me that it was the “checkside”, the “banana” did not come into the vernacular until the early-80’s, I reckon.

    Really enjoyed this. Thanks.

  21. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Not about kicking, but Jack Oatey’s Sturt used a tactic referred to as “checkside rucking” whereby the ruckman, even at centre bounces, would line up/run in with his back to the goals they were kicking to, rather than towards their goals.

  22. Dave Brown says

    That’s a good suggestion, Bucko. Another good Norwood man like Keith Thomas ;)

    Yeah, Fisho, I think there is (now) a fair bit of regret at Norwood that Robert didn’t get to see the fruits of his labours. Hearing him on Graham Cornes’s podcast recently he’s pretty matter of fact about it all.

    Thanks PB. It’s interesting that so much effort was put into so many different types of kick but little onto the non-preferred. We have one kid in our U11s who can do anything at all with his left foot, the rest will go will a checkside if they can’t turn their bodies.

    “Lazy leg action” also describes my running style LB

    Wow, that’s late Roger.

    Reckon the screwie is having a mini-renaissance, Luke. In our wet, windy game yesterday with a size 3 leather ball only the screwies were travelling any distance.

    Thanks Smokie, sure was. It’s a surprisingly great bookshop, very well curated. We go to Port Elliot for a week every January and I make sure to give myself a book budget.

    Yeah, Swish, that’s the component of the term I didn’t go into for the sake of brevity. The usage of checkside to describe a direction whether it be the concept of checkside rucking or SA commentators in the ’60s and ’70s describing a player as kicking the ball to the checkside of the ground even when kicking an orthodox kick/punt.

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