It's finally that time of year. Finally time for ball. Nothing gets us more excited than our first game week of the season. After a grueling "hell week" and fall camp, the anticipation is over and we finally get a chance to showcase what we can do, hear the roar of the crowd, and beat that first team on our schedule. I can't wait to watch you all.
Kickers and punters: many of you had your first game last weekend, or you will have your first game this weekend. As we begin the 2015 season, I would like to give you a few tips regarding game management:
1. Avoid over-kicking during warm-ups. I've been there, and I know this can sometimes be difficult. The anticipation of the game and your eagerness to showcase your skills right away in the stadium is tempting. Yet, your pre-game warm-up is just that, a warm-up. It is important to keep your leg fresh and healthy so you can perform optimally during the game. After your team stretch and your individual dynamic and static stretching, kick and/or punt only as many balls as you need to feel a rhythm; 3 field goals, 3 punts, and 2-3 kickoffs should suffice. You may need a few more, but don't overdo it.
2. Pay attention to wind movement during warm-ups. While you are warming up, be mindful of wind conditions. Look at the flags on the field goal posts or other land marks that can give you an idea of how the wind is moving. Depending on the situation, you may need to adjust your field goal and kickoff right shoulder lines or your punt drop. Remember, in stadiums wind often swirls, so wind movement may be different on either side of the field. Wind can also change direction during the course of the evening, so always be mindful and aware of your wind conditions.
3. Keep your game time focus. It is important to stay mentally focused, emotionally stable, and physically ready during the ENTIRE course of the game. As fast a game as football is, you never know when you will be called on to produce - an interception or fumble returned for a touchdown, and you are up. Nothing disappoints me more than when I see kickers/punters standing around watching the game on the sideline as a spectator. They are doing themselves a disservice, both physically and mentally. To make the most impact, we need to be prepared at all times.
Here is what I recommend: every 15 minutes (real time, not game clock time), whether you have a net set up or can find a spot at the end of the sideline, go get a quick stretch and go through your steps a few times while swinging through (at Kicking1on1 we call these "dry runs"). If you have a net set up, hit a few kicks and/or punts into the net - but do this every 15 minutes throughout the game. This will not only keep you physically stretched and warm, but it will help keep you mentally focused and prepared, when the time comes.
Punters: although it is easier to gauge when we will be needed, we don't want to be "getting warm" in the net or on the sideline on 3rd down. Make sure you are already warm and on the sideline by your punt team on 3rd down, as this will help your focus. Further, your coaches may want to call a specific type of punt or change the punt block scheme for that particular play. You need to be there with your punt team to hear that. Of course, as discussed above, staying warm and focused throughout the game will ensure you are prepared.
4. Kickers, keep track of your own gear. Whether you are using your school's blocks and tees or your own, make sure they are in a specific location so you know exactly where they are during the game. It is too mentally distracting, after a field goal for example, to not be able to find your kickoff tee while everyone is waiting on you. Always put your tees and blocks back in the same place; the best place is right under the net, or if you don't have a net, somewhere down the sideline where they can be kept separate from the team's gear. If you have a student manager you trust, talk with them before the game or during practice week. Student managers can be a huge asset, and they can help you keep track of your gear and even have the tees and blocks ready to hand off to you prior to your field goal or kickoff.
4. Half-time preparation. During the practice week, (NOT during the game) speak with your special teams coordinator or head coach ahead of time to ask permission to leave the locker room 5 minutes earlier than the team at half so you can warm-up before the second half. Stretch a little and stay loose while you are in the locker room. When you head out to the field, as with pre-game warm up, grab a short dynamic/static stretch and hit a few field goals, punts, and kickoffs on the field before the second half starts. If you need help shagging the balls, ask a student manager to help you. While you are out during half, be mindful of the wind conditions, as they may have changed. Make any necessary adjustments as needed so that you are well prepared for the second half.
5. Keep your emotions stable during the game. Obviously, if we hit a long field goal, a great punt, or a booming kickoff, we should get fired up and a little excited right after the moment. You did well and should be excited! But try to even out your emotions after that. Be confident, but stay even. We also need to keep our emotions even if we hit a ball that does NOT go our way. If this happens, don't show frustration, and don't get on yourself for hitting a bad ball. Sure, your coaches may have words with you, but don't let it affect you mentally or emotionally. Understand, it is impossible to hit every ball perfectly throughout the season. We will have those hits that just don't go our way. Don't dwell on them! It is important that we not get too high or too low during a game. Neither bodes well for us. Every kick/punt is a separate event, and we need to be focused and mentally prepared for each one. Of course, if you have a fantastic game, allow yourself to celebrate that night. If we have a game that doesn't go our way, don't get down. Rather, look forward to watching film and analyzing what happened so you can make a plan to address any fundamental or technical issues during practice week.
As always, if there is anything I can do for you, or if you want to talk about your game experience with me, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call at (626) 380-8700.