My (absent) left foot

West Coast had made another break.  Richmond trailed by 22-points midway through the final term when Ty Vickery accepted a handpass in the pocket about 30-metres out.


Vickery had time and space.  He was under scoreboard pressure and pressure to kick the goal.  In a split second, he had to evaluate the distance and decide non-preferred left or right-foot banana.


He fired off a right-foot banana.  The kick lacked penetration, hooked to the right and didn’t make the distance.  Shannon Hurn took a simple defensive mark.


Vickery could’ve kept Richmond in touch with a goal.  He could’ve used his left foot but went with his preferred foot and blew it.


That he missed puts him in a no win situation.  The question has been asked, why no left foot.  But that overlooks the obvious.  He might’ve blown it with his left.


At training, Vickery would’ve had dozens of kicks at goal on his left foot and with a banana.  Maybe he hits those shots eight out of ten at training and just three out of ten on the left.


He knows his strengths and weaknesses.  If he wasn’t confident on his left, the banana was the best option.


But missing a goal from thirty out at a crucial time of the game showed an apparent weakness.  He ignored his balance and positioning and seemed to take the harder option.


It’s an option many players take, the banana instead of a non-preferred kick.  It seems proficiency on the non-preferred side is becoming irrelevant.


Today’s game is helping that irrelevance.  It is dominated by uncontested possession.  Given all that time and space, players don’t often need to use their non-preferred foot.


Most players have some ability on their opposite side.  But risk-free footy doesn’t involve players going forward with a wonky, lofted floater that misses the target when they can kick backwards or sideways with their preferred foot and find a teammate.


Few players are willing to gamble with their non-preferred side in defence or the midfield.  Turnovers lead to goals.  Turnovers get players subbed or dropped.


Footy is all about percentages.  Most players try and get on their preferred side.  Vickery did what he thought was best.  Should we be critical if a player choses his best option and misses?  He didn’t cost Richmond the game, but his miss didn’t help.


Players like Sam Mitchell, Steve Johnson, Jason Akermanis, Greg Williams, Wayne Carey, the Jarman brothers and Gary Ablett (both of them) would’ve kicked the goal on their left foot.


Those players are a class above their teammates and opponents.  They attained a skill level few footballers possess.  The ambidexterity is great to watch, because when a footballer kicks a goal or hits a target with the non-preferred side it is beautiful to watch.

Unfortunately, the level of precision and skill required to be equally proficient on both sides of the body is immense.  Most footballers use their opposite foot in emergencies.


Today’s players are better skilled and fitter, but many still don’t trust their non-preferred foot.


No one should be surprised.  It has been an issue throughout the history of the game.  Poor proficiency on the non-preferred side has been a weakness for many footballers, including champions.


For more than a hundred years, whenever a player is trapped on his preferred side and mucked up a pass or missed a shot at goal, people have screamed no left foot or no right foot.


This weakness doesn’t make sense, because by the time the average player reaches the AFL, he has played football for about fifteen years, since he was five or six.  Yet few can use both feet with similar perfection.


As a junior we are taught to develop both sides of the body, foot and hand.  Training is tailored to improvement.  This demand extends to senior footy.  Every club does drills where players must kick and handpass on the opposite side.


You’re never too good to improve, and still the majority don’t.


Some footballers get through their entire careers without using their opposite side too much.  The knowledge, I’m not as good on my non-preferred, is the reason men like Vickery attempt an improbable banana without the skill to execute it.


No one wants to kick on their non-preferred side.  But at AFL level, it should be more than an emergency option.  It should be ingrained.  And football’s best players have shown how important skills on the non-preferred side are.


Versatility in football is vital.  It extends to the opposite side.


There is no statistical evidence to show whether or not a banana or non-preferred kick produces more goals.  Someone should do a study.


In today’s game, the banana would probably come out on top because few players fire at the goals with their non-preferred side.


But it’s all about the miss.  If Vickery kicked the goal, his choice wouldn’t be an issue.  He’d be hailed for his kick.


But he missed.


So the question needs to be asked again, if Vickery’s balance and positioning meant a left-foot shot seemed the best option, why no left foot.


Vickery isn’t the only footballer who can provide an answer…




About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Andrew Starkie says

    Matt, do they practise their opposite side these days? Many players are more inclined to try the banana or dribble along the ground. Often with bad result. Was Bernie Vince’s goal in the last term on Sunday natural or opposite side?

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great relevant article and it is often referred that goal kicking is a skill in general that has not improved over time equally the lack of non preferred leg,spot on re it’s all about keeping the ball so the kick backwards occurs instead of use of the left.intetesting you used,Vickery just a battler in any thing in the game even a skilled player in Martin chooses a check side re the tigers.The lack of use ofthe non preferred leg is as frustrating as the stupidity of the grabber kick along the ground at goal instead of the simple drop punt goal,thanks Matt

  3. Sal Ciardulli says

    Dustin was one for two with the “checkside” kick last week. Bernie Vince is a natural right footer.

    Elite youngsters are identified early and set on their pathways, it is a blight on the on feeding frenzy of hangers-on the “pathways” system that are supposed to be coaching these kids. Surely they can get the opposite side to be at least adequate.

    Once they are in the AFL it might be more difficult to “rectify” the situation but they are full time players and coaches have unfettered access to them, surely a bit of work on the other side would help. Or will the sports scientists get in the way?,

  4. Dave Brown says

    It’s a funny one. Even 10 years ago most players could kick off both feet, with the non-preferred of most being at least sufficient. I suspect with the modern game ‘sufficient’ has changed. Pressure on disposal is now so great that players are very reluctant to use the blunter weapon which is their non-preferred.

    No idea why we see so few true ambidextrous players anymore (other than athletic ability is valued above skills), Matthew Robran was another.

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Keen observations there Matt.

    I’d add Andrew McLeod to the two-siders.

    I tend to agree with the mirror-image truism that natural left-footers are worse on their right than vice-versa.

    Hawthorn’s shrewd selection/use of natural left-footers seems to have worked. There are parts of the ground where a left-foot kick makes more sense.

  6. daniel flesch says

    Hey ‘Swish’ , as a Hawthorn supporter – tragic , i’ve seen left-footers Roughead , Hodge Rioli kick goals on their right , admittedly from close range . But Isaac Smith – wonderful player – is no good on his right as per the truism you mention . I think i might have seen Lance “Buddy” Whatsisname kick ok on his right , too , but then we don’t talk about HIM anymore. ..We were encouraged at Primary School to kick with both feet, and i got good at it . Unfortunately when it came to serious competition i hardly got a kick and my one ability didn’t get much of an airing.

  7. Peter Fuller says

    Bob Skilton was the basis for comparisons, to the extent that it wasn’t obvious that he had a non -preferred side. I can’t remember who the interviewer was but I recall someone asking him which foot he would use if he had a kick from 50 yards out after the siren to win a game. I think he gave a non-committal answer.

  8. Daniel,
    I played footy the same way.
    Had all the skills, both sides of the body.
    Could play tall or short, hold down a key position if needed.
    Unfortunately, I did all that in the reserves.
    When I got to senior level, I didn’t get enough of the footy to show anyone I could actually play…
    Swish, left-footers definitely seem worse on their opposite side.
    Maybe that means it’s harder to be a left-footer???

  9. Tony Robb says

    I spent what seemed like most of the early seventies doing kicking drills with the likes of Normie Goss, Barry Round and Peter Welsch most of which was spent doing a basic figure 8 drill that got them used to turning on to their left foot until it became a natural action. Ive used the drill with every kids I’ve coached and the ones that practiced it hard are now playing senior footy in Canberra. As i write Carlise just kicked it out on the full shot from next to the goal post using a check side. He have kicked it with his left knee and scored

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