If you are like me, you are probably wondering how the heck an NFL Kicker becomes so good. How do they keep improving? When will the NFL reach a plateau in kicking statistics? Hopefully, we will continue to improve our game season after season. The human body is only capable of so much. Eventually, a phenomenon comes around who proves our bodies are capable of much more.
There seems to be nothing stopping the ever-increasing momentum of the talent of Professional kickers. One would hope that we just continue getting better and better. If you have not already, Check out my previous blog posts for more information about kickers and improving your overall skills. If you are looking into how pro kickers are actually improving, on a season to season basis, we have you covered.
The History of NFL Kickers
When football first began, there was not even a holder or kickoff tees. The kicker would quite literally dropkick the football. This added an extra element of fun to the game since it was unpredictable as to where the ball would go. In fact, most kickers played other positions, Lou Groza for example, played offensive tackle. From 1920 to 1960, the kickers were mainly toe style kickers. This meant they relied 100% on their quad to do all of the kicking for them. The strength required for this style of kicking was necessary. Most if not every season resulted in the NFL Kickers average to be well below 60% made Field Goals.
Eventually, a kicker named Pete Gogolak became the first kicker to utilize the “soccer style.” This revolutionized the game of kicking forever. Furthermore, some kickers took it a step further and became “barefoot kickers.” Rich Karlis was the last breed of even more unique barefoot kickers. Just a side note, our feet are incredibly important so taking care of them is essential. While going barefoot may seem cool and fun, you are sure to limit yourself since your skin becomes sensitive after consistent contact with the ball.
If you look at the record books, the kicking percentages increase as you start to get into the modern era. Each decade seems to result in the percentage increasing slightly. For example, in the 1980-1990 range, the average percentage was around 70%. 1990-2000 the percentage averaged around 76%. And from 2000-2019 the percentage is around 82%. This means for a raised standard for what is possible in the league.
The Main Distinctions Between A Pro And Average Kicker
There are many things that go into becoming a professional kicker, one such thing is a developed routine. This should be something that you can do unconsciously. When professional kickers wake up for game day, they almost always have something they do from the moment they get out of bed until the game starts that is fairly similar in pattern.
This could involve Stretching for 20 minutes before eating 1 cup of oatmeal and 3 eggs. There is no perfect routine. However, there is a beauty and confidence in having something you do consistently. In one of my previous posts, I discussed how being consistent relies on how small wins lead to big wins.
While the pros have developed their own style of kicking, it is always nice to have a sense of improvement. When these small wins start to become bigger and bigger, it would seem weird why one would ever shy away from doing the little things right.
Becoming a professional involves many moving parts. Much of it comes down to the simple fact that they have the confidence and experience to handle almost any situation. They tend to perform best when the pressure is on. Quite simply, they are the strongest mentally tough kickers of the group. (DUH right?)
This may seem simple, this is still an important concept to grasp. If you are wondering how you can become more mentally tough there are many things you can do. Read more books (Yikes), practice Meditation, take care of your body by doing Leg Workouts, Core Workouts, or Workouts in general, (reading my previous Blogs), and many more.
The Main Distinctions Between a Pro And Average Kicker Continued
There are so many small differences between an average and pro kicker. Some of the most obvious things are leg strength, Consistency, and performing when the pressures on. When football kickers can be the most consistent version of themselves, great things happen. Becoming consistent leads to becoming more confident, and then you can build strength as a result.
Too often, kickers rely on pure strength without any technique. This is damaging your ability to become more consistent. Technique is what allows your body to perform when your mind and body may not be completely energized. We want our bodies to autonomously kick a ball without having to think too much.
When you remove thinking from the equation, great things happen. This can be done by focusing on what you can control, having good body control, and swinging through your target. Of course, everyone is different. However, when you can keep things super simple, you leave out any room for overthinking. Focus on 2 things maximum that you want to do on every kick and you will see your numbers skyrocket. Not only will you become more consistent in your percentage, your power will increase as well.
What Does It Take To Become Pro?
Many things, mainly cool socks. Maybe even a great cologne.
As mentioned earlier, there are many small things that add up to you becoming more effective at kicking. Potentially even a pro. Our goal is to impact the life of at least 1 person in order to get them on the right path towards success. Now since there are so many things that make a great kicker, we try to focus on the core elements of elite football kickers. The flexibility, confidence, repeatability, accuracy, and the power to overcome previous misses mentally make you a successful kicker. Since each of these topics could be a blog post of its own, we will try to summarize these the best way we can.
There are many ways to improve flexibility, which in turn, improves power. The most recommended method is when you wake up and go to bed, develop an automatic routine to stretch every morning and night. This results in your body becoming flexible naturally through repetition, consistency, and discipline. All of these traits are necessary to becoming a better kicker.
The whole “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Is partially true. There are many things that can be accomplished quickly by just setting a goal, applying yourself to it, and being resilient. However, there is also a bit of realism that sets in because the body and mind are only capable of so much. For instance, if I wanted to become a turtle, I could buy turtle outfits, eat pizza day and night, or walk incredibly slow. None of these things would result in me being a turtle.
Likewise, there is much to be said about being true to yourself when you kick. This means, there is no reason to expect to hit 95-yard kickoffs, 80-yard field goals, or 90-yard punts unless you are Dustin Hopkins or Marquette King. That being said, you are best focusing on what you can control. Your body and mind will thank you for this.
This is simply the ability to do the same kick over and over again with identical or extremely similar results. This is what separates the pros from the Joe’s. Out of 100 kicks, the pro might make 88 of 100, the Joe may make 72. Still not bad, however, a 16% difference is a huge deal in the big leagues. On top of that, the misses from the pro might have hit the upright or were near misses every time.
Increasing Accuracy For Football Kickers
This goes hand in hand with repeat-ability. If you can improve your accuracy, you will simply be more valuable to the team. The best way to improve your accuracy simply boils down to drill work. Think of drills as a sharpener, you are the axe, and the uprights are the tree. In order to chop down the drill quickly and effectively, sharpen the axe. Do your drill work!
A recommended drill is place the ball on the goal line with the ball aiming to make it through the upright. After you make it, move the ball upfield 1 yard. Now that you are 1 yard in the endzone, attempt to make it again. Repeat until you get to the back of the endzone. After, repeat on the other side of the sideline. This drill eliminates curve, keeps the importance of the aim small miss small concept, and is really effective for improving your skillllllllllllllz.
Methods You Can Apply to Set Yourself Up For Success
Develop winning habits. All of the small things you do in your daily life most likely translate to the field. If you do not have a clean diet, how do you know if your body will perform at peak levels when it needs you most? Take care of your diet so your mind is more even keel. When we become in tune with our bodies through diets, workouts, and other forms of benefits, our livelihood increases.
Studies show that peak performance is achieved through a multitude of things. One of the things that connects to almost all other aspects of your life is a healthy diet. I am also all for pizza and ice cream, in moderation. Not only does it taste good, it just adds a little extra flair into your day to day. However, all things come with a cost to something else. For example, when you finish eating ice cream, how energetic are you 2 hours later? Most likely not a ton.
The reason for this is most foods that contain unhealthy nutrients can make our bodies perform at sub-optimized levels. That being said, our bodies are happier and more responsive when we give it some of the good stuff! Focus on high-quality nutrients and see where you can swap these out for the traditional, unhealthy food. For example, instead of pita chips and hummus, use carrots instead. Instead of ice cream, eat fruits. By replacing high calorie, low nutrient food, with low calorie, high nutrient food, our bodies will thank us. Start by making small changes and you will see your on the field performance increase in small ways which leads to big changes in the future.
The Future Of Football Kickers
There is a lot to be said about where the future of the kickers is heading. One thing is for certain. We are awesome. I mean come on, we kick something so hard it goes almost the whole distance of the field. And punting a bomb? Arguably the greatest feeling in the world. So this leads to the question, where will kickers be in 5 years. No clue, though the NFL keeps tweaking with the requirements of kickers. They moved the PAT back to the 15-yard line making the game more “exciting” which it has. Kickers actually have to try to make a 33-yard field goal now.
This rule change will most likely come with others in the following seasons. Kickoffs might be due for another change as kickoff specialists are so strong they kick a touchback around 50% of the time. Meaning 1 out of 2 kicks has the chance to be returned for a gain over 25 yards (where the ball is placed in a touchback.) Out of those kicks returned, the NFL Average for kickoffs returned for touchbacks is an astounding 1.5% This means out of 10 kickoffs, 1 maybe 2 might be returned for a touchback. Among that, the average team has 5 kickoffs a game. This means that every game with both teams included, there are 10 kickoffs. Even deeper, after 10 games, one team SHOULD have a kickoff return for a touchdown. How is that for math!
The Future Of Kickers Continued
No one really knows the future of professional kickers. However, it is fun to see a long kick go through those beautiful yellow posts. The satisfaction of hitting a big punt that is downed inside the 5 is an incredible one. All of these traits are a huge part of the culture of the NFL. There is always a need for kickers and punters. So as long as the NFL continues to develop their requirements for kickers, we will keep developing no matter the circumstance. Keep calm, stay strong, and strike that pigskin through the uprights and do a cool celebration.
Thanks for reading and as always, stay amazing!