The world of kicking got a nice wake-up call this past weekend when kicker Blair Walsh, place-kicker for the Minnesota Vikings, missed a 27 yard field goal that could have won his team the game and sent them to the next round of the playoffs.
Immediately following the miss nearly every fan and critic were quick to blame Walsh through social media.
Nobody was worried about the fact that Walsh was one of the main reasons the Vikings were even close to winning the game that ended 9-10. The 3 field goals Walsh successfully connected on throughout the game were nearly meaningless due to the final result of his last attempt.
Not to mention the conditions the teams were playing in. Temperatures, which bottomed out at -6 degrees with a wind chill of -25 degrees, tied for the third coldest NFL playoff game in history. Less than ideal kicking conditions to say the least! Especially from the eyes of a specialist.
Frigid temperatures can make for a tough time for kickers and punters. Imagine having to stand on the sideline, trying to stay loose and finding a way to keep your legs warm. Playing out in the cold is one thing, but being a kicker or punter during one is completely different. With the limited amount of plays a specialist receives in a game, it takes a little bit more work to stay locked in and ready to go at all times.
Unfortunately, fans, critics and media all see one thing. The end result of the play. You can become a Hero or a Zero in the blink of an eye.
That’s what makes the art of kicking and punting so unique in comparison to any other position on the field. Specialists are expected to be 100% every single time. No questions asked. Anything less and get ready for the stereotypical “You had one job”.
It doesn’t matter if you are kicking into a 30 mph wind, you have a bad snap/hold, you’re injured or any other unfortunate circumstance. You are expected to be perfect every time you step on the field.
So what does all of this mean for us specialists?
Make every kick the same.
Practice, scrimmage, PAT, 50 yarder, or a simple game winning field goal. It doesn’t matter. Make them all the same and never pull up short.
Make your routine a habit. Picture yourself making the game winning field goal. Self motivate yourself before every kick. Tell yourself you are about to split the uprights.
Develop your muscle memory to run through each kick with precise mechanics.
Game winning field goal or a simple kick in practice, it should all be the same. Focus on the details of your kick and maintain the exact mechanics each and every time.
Lock in the details.
How many deep breaths will you take before the kick?
When is the last time you look up at the field goal posts?
When do you start your approach?
Build up your muscle memory so you can be sure to tune out the crowd and lock-in the task at hand.
Follow the same steps every single rep and find your comfort zone.
We all miss.
Even though creating good habits won’t eliminate a missed field goal from time to time, it will nonetheless allow you to become more consistent with your craft. Consistency is a specialist’s key to success.
In the times that you do miss, and yes we all miss at some point, be sure to take the blame. Be humble, take responsibility of the mishap and never point the finger at someone else. Even if you do kick the laces because of a bad hold or have to hesitate because of a high snap, always take the blame and work out the details later. See below how Blair Walsh reacted to the media after the game. Notice that he could have blown up and called out his holder for the bad hold, what did he do instead? Took full responsibility and remained confident in his ability.
While success is never guaranteed, especially for specialists, eliminating some of the noise around your kick will, more times than not, help you drill your kicks.
In the end, before you judge another kicker for his miss, take a step back and analyze what went wrong. Watch the entire thing through. How was the hold? How was the snap? Did he look like he was going to make it, or was his body posture and facial expressions telling a different story? Did he pull up short or follow all the way through with his kick?
Learn from other kickers mistakes and help yourself avoid a costly miss.
For those that missed the missed field goal by Blair Walsh see it at the top of this post. You be the judge. Tell us what went wrong. Should he have made it even with a bad hold?
Also, see what kicker Kai Forbath, kicker for the New Orleans Saints, has to say about the topic.
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