By Nick McCashin ProRugby Club
Effortless Rugby Goal Kicking and How to Slot 5 from 5
Have you ever watched a professional game of rugby and specifically watched the goal kicker effortlessly slot 5 from 5? Regardless of the crowd size, noise, who he is playing and where he is playing. He systematically goes through his routine and 100% of the time the ball sails through the posts…. If in the rare occasion that it does miss it might hit the upright.
We have occasionally watched professional games and the kicker has had an absolute shocker and kicked goals like he was on the golf course. Shanking it, slicing it left then over correcting and hooking it right. Sometimes the ball falls off the tee mid-way through your run up and you grubber it along the ground. For example Scotland v Romania in the 2011 World Cup, Chris Patterson.
We admired professional players who kick goals as they must have pretty big balls to step up for the team and nail the penalty or goal that will determine the game. The result can brand you as the hero or the loser. I know what it is like to be on both ends of that final kick. Most goal kickers know that misses hurt like hell.
Improving as a Rugby Goal Kicker
It is not about kicking yourself when you have missed. It is not about changing your technique every practice. It is not about forcing yourself to try harder or practice longer. There is a need to practice but practice the right way. Perfect practice makes permanent. Not the traditional practice makes permanent.
Where to start with rugby goal kicking.
The ball and posts are going to be the same or similar every time. Sometimes you have to kick with a ball that is pumped up to extremes and is rock hard or sometimes it is a little flat but most of the time it will be the same. With this in mind you want to make sure your set up exactly the same every time. In your initial set up you want the ball to be the same so you control this part of the kick every time. A good way to test the set up is to take five kicks of the ball at 5 different set up positions. Video recording them can help you see what happens to the ball and what might be best for your kicking technique. Personally I like the ball slightly tilted forward and more up right. I use a small green Dan Carter kicking tee and I always have the valve of the ball pointed towards the post.
Study the professionals or get an experienced goal kicking coach
Look at kickers who you admire and asked a few questions. Why are they the best? What is the same every time? Where are the similarities in each kicker? What are the main parts of the kick? Seek advice from a professional goal kicker if you can get in touch with him. Speaking to an experienced coach can help but sometimes you need to be careful. Even though he seems to know what he is talking about you need to ask yourself has he or can he kick?. I used a kicking coach during my career which really helped me keep focused and improve my percentage. I wish I had have worked with him longer as it keep me accountable to practice the right way and often. (Thanks Dave Mays).
The fundamentals of Rugby Goal Kicking
To make it easy for anyone reading this I have broken the skill down for you to help with your success. If you get these all right you will quickly be on your way to kicking five from five.
1. The Set Up
Every goal kicker will have their own unique set up which will suit their style and action. A good tip here is to line the ball up with the seam and valve facing away from you and towards the goal. Having the seem and valve away from you helps with consistency as the inside of the ball is different around the valve area. Some players like to have the ball slightly tilted to one side to combat the natural curve you produce on the ball after the kick and the pivot of the hip. The tee choice is merely a preference for the set up and individual yet this will change the sweet spot slightly depending on what you go for. For example the tee is used if the player wants the ball set higher, lower or to stand upright or to lean it further forward. My personal preference is to have the ball slightly titled forward and away from me. I use a low set kicking tee as mentioned the Dan Carter green tee because when I was younger I learnt to kick off a crow’s nest made from the grass or sand.
2. The Run Up
Now every player has a unique style before his run up and a classic example of this is Jonny Wilkinson. He adopts a powerful stance elbows tucked in and hands held together almost as if he was praying before his kick. A lot of these physical movements are simply to get the body and mind ready for the kick.
More often than not the kicker would kick through the ball from a 45 degree angle. The player can use as many steps as he likes to help get the timing right. For myself I stand 45 degrees to the ball and line up the goal and the ball with my right eye. As my right eye is the one I use for aiming.
3. The Opposite Foot Placement
The opposite foot should always be placed directly alongside the ball about a half a foot or so. The distance will be slightly different for everyone but a half a foot directly to the side is a good starting point. The angle of this foot should always be pointing in the direction of the posts. Angled out it will more often than not go left and angled in it will go right. Having the foot placement to far forward with decrease your power and having it too far back with make you kick further up the ball. Further up the ball will decrease power, you will almost top the ball and your kick will have less accuracy.
4. The Sweet Spot
The kicking leg should always connect with the same point on the ball. Normally it is around a 1/3 the way up from the base of the ball along the seam. Depending on your set up this can change slightly. I like to imagine a black spot on the ball. A good tip when practicing is to draw a circle around the sweet spot as it will help you hit that point more consistently.
5. Shoulder and Head
If the kicker was a right footer his left shoulder and head should always be over the ball in a powerful position and his head down eyes fixed on the strike. A good tip here is to imagine the ball is glass and as you are over the ball you should be able to look through it to see you foot strike the sweet spot. The opposite for a left footer. Having your shoulder open too much will give you too much rotation at the hip giving you
6. The Follow Through
After the strike every goal kicker needs to follow through the line of the ball. This helps accuracy, consistency and power. Some players however fall away to the side of the ball instead of in front of the ball. If you swing through the ball and finish in front more often than not you would achieve greater distance and a higher level of accuracy than those that fall away to the side.
During practice it is good to make a mark in front of your ball and tee where you would like to follow through to. Australian past player and goal kicker Sterling Mortlock used to do this.
Why should I do this?
Following the basics of goal kicking you can improve your technique dramatically. There are lots of others things you need to get right which include the way you practice and mindset. If you are a kicker everything has to be positive. Regardless whether you miss or slot the kick, each kick you learn what worked well and what didn’t. When we break the skill down into 6 key points we can focus on improving each step which will help you with your consistency and accuracy. Practicing and evaluating only six things after each kick will allow you to critique the part that was not performed so well and you can improve it for the next kick with being too overwhelmed.
Mastery of the fundamentals can improve your kicking from 50-70% in the season to 70-80%. Combined with the right mindset and practice there is no reason why you can not achieve 90% or higher in your game. Continue to focus on improving and getting better with each training session. Practice at every opportunity prior to training or after even if it is only five to ten mins. In our experience limiting the amount of kicks to 20 gives you a goal and an end point. During practice you should always finish on a good kick so that you internalise the correct technique. Five mins prior to your game is always beneficial to get the body and mind primed for the game.
The good news for rugby goal kickers
All kicking techniques can be learnt and passed onto other players. Some players think they can kick but in reality they can-not kick to save themselves. We believe anyone can learn to kick in a short space of time with the right frame work and be successful on the paddock.
Strength and Conditioning training for rugby goal kickers
To improve your goal kicking do not skip leg day. Seriously strengthening the legs can help with correct muscle function, kicking technique and power in your goal kicking. While you cannot go past the basics such as the squat or the dumb bell walking lunge here are our favourite exercises in the gym or weight room to help improve your goal kicking.
Exercises to incorporate into your program
Torture Twist– Great for Building core strength
Superman or any Quadraped exercise – helps core strength and minimise instability
Rotational Squat – Very good for that twisting motion similar to a kick. Helps you develop power around the hip.
Single Leg Squat – Good for strength and balance in the kick giving you more distance
Single Leg Deadlift – Helps strengthen hamstrings and balance to avoid injury.
Clams – Its is important to have strong glutes and that includes the smaller glute muscles.
Rugby Goal Kicking Drills
Kicking along the try line from the touchline at a single goal post helped a goal kicker work purely on the fundamentals of the kick and the flight of the ball from the kicking tee. Learning how to master your technique and the fundamentals so you can accurately and consistently kick straight. When you can hit the single post time and again you are on the right track. By focusing on the kick and not the final result can help you stay present within the kick and perform better on the field.
Testing your rugby specific goal kicking under pressure
As a goal kicker it is always good to test yourself in mini competitions after your practice. If you are alone. Create scenarios in your mind and certain kicks you might have to kick. For example the World Cup final winning conversion. By doing this in your mind if you ever get the the World Cup and you have that kick to win the game you will be confident you have kicked it over a hundred times in practice.
If your team is around you can always have a kicking competition. It is hard to replicate the same pressure you have in a game so kicking with team mates or friends can help apply a little extra pressure. To make it even more interesting we recommend adding stakes (Beers, chocolate bars or money).
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