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Most normal football fans draft their kicker last in fantasy football and get a snack during the PAT. But if you think special teams are the Rodney Dangerfields of the NFL, it’s time start considering them the smartest guys on the field. (Mostly because of the lack of helmet-to-helmet contact.)
NFL coach Jerry Rosburg has been showing football players how to punt, kick, and snap for 38 years. It’s part of the reason his Baltimore Ravens have a special teams unit that lead the league in 2015. So, If you want to sign a pint-sized kid up for Pee Wee — or let them contribute to the team without a concussion — it’s time to start working on splitting the uprights.
These Guys Aren’t The Waterboys
Rosburg says you need to dismiss the notion that special teams players aren’t great athletes. Pound-for-pound, they’re among the best — many of them just aren’t built to withstand the kind of hits other positions are required to take. Special teams players also possess freakish hand-eye coordination. “Punters need to have as good of hands as they do a leg,” he says. “You have to be able to control the ball, control the drop. It’s a 3-dimensional world. You drop the ball out there and you have to get your foot on it.”
He says that those skills also translate to offseason sports — like ping pong and cornhole. “Don’t play them in anything. The guys always say there’s 2 things [about punters and kickers]: One, they’re good athletes. Two, they have a lot of time on their hands to practice.”
Soccer Vs. Football
Fortunately for the soccer dads, the days of NFL kickers toeing the ball are long gone. In the modern era (post 80s anyway) kickers have opted for soccer-style kicks, striking the ball from the side with the inside arch of the foot. Since your kid’s likely been doing this since before they turned 4, they already have the basic kicking motion. Step 1, complete.
Kicking A Field Goal
Vinatieri. Gostkowski. Other guys who aren’t current or former Patriots. What would nail-biting games be without the possibility of blowing it in the final seconds because you hit a pole from 55 yards away? To get your kid set for the game-winning field goal, here’s Rosburg’s advice (if your kid’s a lefty, reverse it):
- Line Up: Take 3 steps backward and 2 side-steps left of the ball. Put the left foot just slightly ahead of the right foot. Knees bent. Lean forward at the waist.
- Approach The Ball: It’s a half step with the left foot and a long stride with the right. They should plant the left foot with toes pointing forward. The big bone on the inside of the left ankle parallel to the ball. “You’re not reaching for the ball. You’re not coming across the ball. You’re hitting the ball with your leg going through it.”
- Hit The Spot: Strike the seam of the ball about 4-inches up from the tip planted on the ground.
- Follow Through And Hop: Like golf, they should finish with momentum, which means end with a small hop on the plant foot.
What It Should Look Like: There shouldn’t be a wobble — or what special teams coaches call “bowties.” “And it’s not spinning too fast — if it spins too fast, it’s not going to go as far,” says Rosburg. “That means you hit too low on the ball.”
The ideal kickoff is neither a line drive nor a moonshot, but one that gains height as it travels downfield. Rosburg says if you’re a golfer, it should have the same trajectory as a 5-iron shot. If you kid has never played golf, explain it’s where daddies go to frustrate themselves with something besides work and kids.
The pros take 10 yards and 6 horizontal strides away from the football, but for younger kids let them do what’s comfortable. Put their left foot back (or right, if they’re a lefty). Tell them it’s not a full sprint, but about 75 percent-speed towards the ball. The plant foot goes to the left on the same horizontal plane as the ball. “You can strike the ball a little bit higher [than on a field goal] because you’re trying to kick it farther,” he says. “It’s our belief that after you swing through you should actually land on your kicking foot. We call it the hurdle.”
Punting The Ball
Push them back, waaaay back. Punters aren’t heroes, but they are tactically important — especially if your kid’s Pee Wee team find themselves in a lot of 3-and-out situations. First, have them stand with feet shoulder-width apart. The kicking foot is a couple of inches behind the plant foot.
- Catch The Ball: Part of being a punter is having good hands; the ideal snap will come to the hip of the kicking leg and be an underhanded catch.
- Hold The Ball: Once it’s caught with 2 hands, drop the left hand and grip one end of the ball between the thumb and forefingers like you’re shaking someone’s hand.
- Extend: Have them extend their arm as far as it will go, with the ball horizontal to the ground and the tip angled slightly to the left.
- Step, Drop, And Kick: Take 2 steps forward, starting with the kicking foot. Swing upward with the kicking foot, and drop the ball as late as possible so that it’s almost kicked directly from the hand.
- Follow Through: Punters finish up, not out. That’s why prototypical punters can just about kiss their knee at the end of a kick.
What It Should Look Like: An ideal punt is a high, arcing spiral. To get that spiral, kick the ball off the outer part of the foot.
If your kid isn’t the one doing the punting, maybe they’re the doing the snapping. Here’s how they should deliver the ball to their teammate. Grip the ball like a QB throwing a forward pass. The other hand on the opposite side of the ball. The middle finger is resting on the ball’s seam, with the middle knuckle in the center of the football.
The snapper’s stance looks like they’re reaching for a ball a yard away from them, crouched with knees bent slightly, and back parallel to the ground. Body weight should be on the legs, not the arms — definitely not the ball. Check the target between the legs. The throwing motion is basically a forward pass backwards through the legs. Follow through with the fingertips facing backward, tops of the hands facing each other.
What It Should Look Like: The ideal snap is “a perfectly spinning ball,” says Rosburg. “In my view, velocity is important to an extent, but accuracy is even more important. Being able to put the ball where you’re aiming it is vital.”
Get Those 10,000 Hours In
So now your kid is kicking and snapping, but Rosburg thinks practice is far more important than any visualization techniques you might consider. In fact, he believes in practice so much, he’ll make his players do reps without kicking the ball to avoid leg fatigue.
“Your eyes are seeing [the ball], your hands are catching it, you’re dropping it at the perfect place. You’re going through those 10,000 repetitions to get good and you’re not even swinging your leg.” If your kid won’t go outside with you because it’s a bit nippy, have them consider Rosburg’s schedule. “We practice outside in any condition regardless of what it’s like outside. We kind of pride ourselves on that,” he says. “And we love windy days.”