The kicking game seems to be an afterthought for most youth football coaches. You have such limited amounts of practice time and so much to get done, that kicking gets ignored. Hey, I understand that completely. Most of us have 25 kids on our teams, about half of them have never played before, heck some of them don’t even know how to put their pants on properly. Adding to this practice scarcity equation is the fact that all your players are playing both ways and special teams AND they need to get up to speed with simple, basic, necessary but time consuming fundamentals. We just don’t have time, we don’t have kicking specialists at the youth level, those kids are our Quarterbacks or starting Linemen.
For many youth teams that means the kicker gets chosen by lottery or by a 10 minute tryout. Then he might be given a few minutes of practice in one or two practices prior to the first game. In actuality less than 10% of youth kickers are taught how to kick, most coaches just choose the best “natural” kicker they see during the tryout and then let him do his thing. Sure you will let him rep his kicks, but how often are they truly coached on HOW to kick properly? How many of us know how to break down kicking to the atomic level like we do our blocking/tackling/throwing/catching and then teach it and quality control it at the youth level? The net is very few youth football coaches know how to properly kick the ball and then more importantly how to transfer that knowledge into your kickers head.
That’s why you usually see a bunch of bigger “toe punchers” kicking at the youth level, who get beat out by real kickers their first year in High School. Not knowing how to teach kickers will also lose you competitive games. In many youth football leagues including Pop Warner and AYF, the PAT is worth 2 points if it is kicked and only 1 of it is a run or pass. I’ve gone to many big tournaments including 6 Pop Warner and AYF National Championships where many of the games were decided by the kicking games. Sure the dominant teams were winning big in their hometown leagues or even sometimes in regionals, but when it came down to the National Tournaments in Florida, there are lots of very close games decided by the kicking game. A 2 point is HUGE at this level. If a team can consistently kick their PATs and their opponent can’t, that first touchdown and 8-0 score is a 2 touchdown lead.
Same goes for the punting game. So many of these great teams dominate and rarely or never punt in league play. But when they play teams of equal ability, they WILL have to punt. Back in 2010 I saw an undefeated and unscored upon team from North Carolina lose in the Pop Warner National Tournament in Disney because of their punting game. They had their first punt blocked, the second one went for about 6 yards and on 4th and 8 from their own 10 yard line they had to go for it and didn’t get it. The opposing team took over on the 10, scored and went on to win the game. The opposing team had flipped the field no less than 4 times with punts of 30-50 yards.
If your goal is to be an elite team OR you have a heart for preparing your players for the next level, you need to consider getting better at coaching your kickers. The best resource I’ve seen is Kohls Kicking Camps. John and Jamie Kohl were speaking at a Glazier Coaches Clinic in Chicago. I sat in on 3 sessions and was hooked. We bought their Instructional Kicking DVDs and we’ve used their approach ever since. Last year one of our kickers went to one of their 90 camps and we have another heading to Omaha this June. With a ratio of 1 coach to every 8 players, the kids get great instruction. You can’t learn how to kick well by just buying a book of drills, you have to understand the mechanics of kicking and the Kohl guys do a great job with it. The great thing about these camps are you can get down close and learn how to coach it yourself.
What better way to improve your team in the off-season? Do what no one else is doing, learn how to coach kickers so you dominate the third rail of football, the kicking game.
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