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Pay Attention

Steps and Hints to Aid Concentration in Kickers
by: Nancy Halliday, Ph.D.,
by: Steven Frierman, Ph.D.
Hofstra University
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In order to be a successful football player, one must be able to focus his attention on the right cues at the right time. The position a player plays often determines whether that player's focus of attention should be broad (large) or narrow (small), internal (from within), or external (from outside sources, i.e. teammates, opponents, playing surface).

The purpose of this article is to focus on the kicker. Here are some guidelines to help increase your kicker's ability to direct his attention to the right cues and increase his chances for success by avoiding costly errors.

Practice kicking until it becomes automatic. Making skills automatic requires systematic practice of the important parts of the skill. Making kicking skills automatic frees up attentional "space" for other important aspects of the performance.

Beginning kickers whose skills are not yet automatic have to devote more attention to executing the parts of the skill correctly, so they do not have as much attentional space left over to respond to what is happening on the field around them.

Kickers need many repetitions of each different part of the skill in order for these routines to become automatic. Conditions of practice should be as close to game conditions as possible. Practice routines should be structured to include each of the different distances and field positions likely to be encountered during the game.

Those kickers whose skills are automatic will also find it easier to make those critical game-winning kicks because they will be less affected by high stress situations.

Direct kicker's attention to the important cues. During practices and games, coaches need to help kickers focus attention on two types of cues: cues that have to do with skill technique in performing the kick and cues from the game environment that affect the kicking performance.

Kickers need to focus attention on the critical aspects of the skill (steps, non-kicking foot placement, eyes on contact point, snap of kicking leg) so that they can improve performance. Coaches can help by giving specific information about how the skill was performed, so the kicker may either correct the problem or repeat the correct movement.

Verbal descriptions and videotape analysis of the kicking performance are both valuable sources of information for kickers. This information should direct the kicker's attention to those critical parts of the skill that, if corrected, will significantly improve the kick.

Give feedback. In the early stages of learning, feedback should be more general and become increasingly more precise as the kicker becomes more skilled.

Inexperienced kickers will need more of this kind of feedback, while experienced kickers will be able to detect and correct most of their own errors. Inexperienced kickers also need to know both what went wrong with the kick and what do to correct it. Experienced kickers may need help detecting the error. Once they know what it is, they should be able to correct it.

Feedback should be liberal during practices and limited during game play. With the increased stress of the game situation, kickers' attention will be narrowed, and giving too much feedback during the game may only serve to distract the kicker's attention and negatively affect his performance.

Part of the practice routine should involve discussion of, and practice with, focusing on the important environmental cues and screening out the unimportant ones.

Kickers need to focus attention on things like getting the correct angle and distance on the kick based on field position and distance from the goal, watching the snap and hold, looking at the contact spot on the ball, and following through. They need to learn to screen out irrelevant cues such as the crowd, noise, and movements and positioning of other players.

More is not better. Attention levels decrease if kickers are too psyched for the game, or not psyched enough. Finding and maintaining the right level of arousal is not always an easy task for kickers because of the long waits they have during a game. Therefore, encourage kickers to stay focused on the game so they can maintain the proper levels of arousal for optimal attention when the time for the kick finally comes.

Due to the nature of the skill, kickers can deal with higher levels of stress than players at other positions and still perform well. However, too much stress can cause kickers to pay attention to the wrong cues, causing errors. Work with your kicker to create the right amount of arousal during various game situations so that his attentional capacity will be at optimal level for correct performance.

There are four different types of attentional focus: broad external, broad internal, narrow external and narrow internal. The position and specific role a player plays on the team often determines the type of attentional focus that should be used in order to increase chances of success.

For example, quarterbacks usually have to pay attention to a great deal of information (i.e. getting the snap, executing the play, reading the defense) in a changing environment and therefore play best when the focus of attention is broad and external. Conversely, kickers have significantly less information to concentrate on in order to be successful.

Moreover, many of the factors necessary for the kicker to focus on remain constant (i.e. the type of snap, where they want the ball, how to kick properly). Thus, a kicker should use a narrow internal focus once they have learned and are able to kick properly-regularly.

Coaches can help kickers by giving them the opportunity to practice using the proper attentional focus and discouraging kickers from using an attentional focus that is too broad and irrelevant to actual performance.

Anticipate the snap to speed response. Kickers will be able to get the kick off more quickly if they use the snap count to anticipate the snap and ball placement, rather than focusing only on the snap itself or the ball placement to begin their movement. This anticipation helps the kicker to initiate his approach to the ball more quickly, resulting in a more efficient kick.

Practice should be designed so that snap counts are as close to game conditions as possible and coaches should have kickers practice anticipating the count for maximum efficiency of response time in beginning the approach to the ball.

Give kickers a mental routine. Has your kicker ever missed the kick because he was distracted at the critical moment in the kick? Distractions are a part of the game, but they do not have to disrupt performance.

However, when stress levels are higher, as they are during a game, players become distracted more easily. If your practice plans include focusing and maintaining attention on the important cues in spite of distractions of the game. This practice should include a mental routine that will help kickers to overcome distractions.

The routine might include a series of cues related to the skill technique that the kicker would review mentally prior to each kick. An example of this kind of mental routine for a soccer style kick might be saying the key words angled approach, grounded foot to side, toe down, ankle locked, leg cocked, head over ball, hips extend, snap to the ball, follow through.

Performing a set physical routine will help as well. The kicker should develop the habit of approaching the kick the same way each time, until the approach becomes as automatic as the skill itself. This will help to keep the kicker focused and limit the possibility he will be distracted during the kick.

Kickers will also be more focused when they come into the game if they have been going through their mental and physical routines on the sidelines in between kicks.

Extremes in hot or cold weather conditions also affect players' ability to focus attention and screen out distractions. Kickers can spend long periods of time waiting on the sideline between kicks. It is easy for kickers to lose their ability to focus attention during this time, especially in cold weather conditions. Whatever coaches can do to help minimize the impact of weather conditions on kickers will help them to maintain better levels of attention.

Coaches who pay attention to these guidelines and help kickers to: practice until the kick is automatic, direct attention to the right cues, maintain optimal levels of arousal, use the appropriate attentional style, anticipate the snap, and use both physical and mental routines to reduce distractions will have a better chance of seeing the ball go through the uprights at critical moments during the season.

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