by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
During my entire professional and international career I never kicked a ball during competition. No grubbers, drop kicks or penalties, nothing. I didn’t know how, but I do now. In this instalment we will look at our teaching progression for the drop punt. The drop punt has been successfully used in matches over the past several seasons to kick from hand with increased precision and accuracy.
Michael Bryne, a coaching colleague, introduced this teaching progression to me several years ago. Mick was kind enough to take me through his approach to kicking the ball from hand while we hosted him here at Cal and we have been using the technique ever since. There are three designated stages of the teaching progression. The single leg strike, the one step strike and the in-motion strike.
The first aspect of kicking a ball, whether it a drop punt or otherwise, is an understanding of how to generate maximum force with the core muscles. In this case, we work to stay square and “tie” the opposite shoulder to the leg we are going to strike the ball with. To do this, we need to activate our core muscles, our thighs, glutes, hips, abs, and torso. We want these muscles to fire (or shorten) as we strike the ball. Following this, we focus on using the thigh as a conduit to the lower leg. The goal is to create lower leg speed between the knee and the ankle by flexing at the knee, but without extending the hip. We encourage our kickers to lean slightly forward with their upper body and stay forward while kicking. The foot of the strike leg should be rigid but not overly flexed or extended, this promotes a larger sweet spot on the forefoot than when pointing the foot as the ball is struck.
Ball position is perpendicular to the ground while in the kicker’s hands. The kicker’s arms are extended at waist height, as this body position serves to place the ball closer to the kicker’s foot. All that is left for the kicker to do is shift their bodyweight over and balance on the plant foot. The kicker is now positioned to execute a single leg strike.
The action sequence of the kick sees the kicker release the ball, arms extended at waist height, by taking hands away. After the ball has been released, the foot begins its forward movement. It is important to note that these two actions happen in sequence, not simultaneously. As the ball is struck, it should travel initially at a low trajectory and gain elevation as it flies through the air. When done properly, there is a reverse rotation on the ball, similar to the rotation of a basketball when shot at the free throw line.
As your kicker’s master the mechanics and body position of the single leg strike, you can advance them to the one step strike. In this second stage, the kicker is placed in an identical upper body position as the single leg strike, but is equally balance on both legs. The action movement in the one step strike has the kicker take one step forward with their plant leg and then drop and strike the ball. The motion of taking a single step makes the transfer of the mechanics from being balanced on one leg to moving forward challenging but more powerful. The coaching cues during the stage are identical to the single leg strike. The kicker should be encouraged to stay forward, while holding the ball perpendicular to the ground while in motion, and isolating the thigh on the strike leg to minimize hip extension.
The third and final stage of the drop punt progression is the in-motion stage. This final stage should incorporate all the previously mentioned body mechanics while the kicker is in motion. Introducing motion requires the kickers to have already established awareness of their core activation and strike mechanics. My experience tells me that when coaching kickers during the in-motion stage, a common issue is the ball placement at the time of release. Now that the kicker is in motion, the natural countermovement of the upper body as the lower body is moving effects where and how the ball is positioned at the time it is dropped. This variable has considerable significance with the level of success a kicker will experience.
Once the teaching progression has been introduced and time has been invested on the training field, often time the kickers will be able to perform self-analysis while kicking and therefore make adjustments in real time. The beauty of the progression is that we can go back through the single leg or one step stage to address and correct the mechanics as needed.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty), the U.S. (The Old Blues), England (London Harlequins), and Wales (Pontypridd) for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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