Bulletin 1
Kicking for goal – What approach would you use?

 

There has been much discussion over the years as to the type of approach players should take in a set shot for goal. An observation of elite Australian footballers demonstrates that the kicker may choose between a straight approach, an oblique (curved) approach, or a step across approach. Buddy Franklin for example uses a step across and wide approach sometimes called a ‘round the corner’ kick. In addition there is the consideration of distance from the goal and the angle to the goal.

Typically in Australian Football for shorter kicks of less than 30 metres, where accuracy rather than ball speed is required, players will tend to use a straight approach and continue in a straight line through the kicking action. For longer kicks, even to the limit of their range, some players may use a straight approach and step across into a side position during the final kicking stride. Some players, however, will adopt an oblique approach and continue it into the final stride for both long and short kicks. Tony Lockett, arguably one of the finest kickers the game has seen, used a short but straight approach of around 6 steps.

Good biomechanics would suggest that from a distance of around 40-50 metres, neither an extreme wide approach, sometimes called a ‘round the corner’ kick, nor a straight approach, is the most efficient way to execute a set kick. Rather, research indicates that a short approach with a moderate curve is the most efficient both in terms of accuracy and distance. It is no surprise that every other football code uses an oblique approach to achieve maximum accuracy and distance. Even American footballers have adopted the oblique approach over the straight approach.

The energy transferred to a kick with an approach of 5-7 steps is the same as that transferred with any greater number of steps. Hence, it would appear there is no advantage to be gained with an approach exceeding 7 steps. Approaches that are longer than necessary serve no purpose and may possibly disturb the rhythm and balance of the approach. Long approaches also increase the amount of information the player’s central nervous system must process, with a heightened possibility of errors interfering with the approach. The expression ‘…he psyched himself out of the kick…’ is often heard when the player takes too much time to settle, or takes an excessively long approach.

When asked about the approach, many players will say they favour the straight approach because it gives excellent alignment with the target and is therefore more accurate. The assumption here, albeit a seemingly logical one, is that in order to kick the ball straight, the approach must be straight. This in turn implies that in the final stride the body will be aligned so that the kicking leg will ‘naturally’ follow a straight line to the target. The design of the kicking leg however tells us something very different. Its natural movement is not straight but rather rotational and its tendency is to pull obliquely across the midline of the body rather than pushing straight through to the target. Players will report feelings of being off balance and awkward as they try to maintain a straight approach through the final kicking stride.

The powerful adductor muscles located on the inside of the thigh are more powerful than the abductor muscles on the outside of the thigh as they are larger and more numerous. They have the tendency not only to drive the leg forward, but also to draw it across the mid-line of the body. Long kicks using a straight approach, are therefore generally pulled or drawn from right to left. Game statistics confirm this, revealing that up to 30% more kicks (by right foot kickers) miss the goal on the left hand side.

An oblique approach employing the natural action of the kicking muscles compensates for this by placing the body in a more open or side-on position. The natural muscular line of pull now brings the leg into a straight alignment to the target. The result will have the leg swinging along the line of a big imaginary arrow and directly to the target. Hence, greater accuracy with the oblique approach can be the expected result. It should be emphasized that the oblique pathway need only be a moderate curve to achieve the desired result and players should experiment to find the pathway that best suits them.

The oblique approach also results in a stronger kicking action. It is sufficient to note here that this approach places the body in an advantageous open hip or side position during the final stride permitting a greater range of movement and velocity in the kicking leg.

Using the straight approach the foot contacts the ball in a vertical orientation and along its centreline. To successfully kick the ball between the goal posts from 40 metres, the ball must be contacted within approximately 1 centimetre either side of the ball’s vertical centreline. Contact any further away from the centreline will result in serious inaccuracies. With such low tolerance, little wonder so many kicks miss the goal.

Directional accuracy is more easily accomplished with an oblique approach because the foot is angled slightly across the ball at impact rather than being vertically aligned with its centreline. This offers not only a greater surface area of the ball for contact, but a more solid contact as well. In addition it permits contact to be made on the hard platform of the foot, ‘the hump’, located more to the inside of the foot. In so doing the ball is also contacted on the ‘sweet spot’ of the foot platform, the impact being full and ‘meaty’. This is why players report a curved side approach as producing a well-balanced and solid impact.

Even players who adopt a straight approach to the target often use a step across the mid line with their last stride to achieve the same result. However, such last-instant adjustments may disrupt the fluidity of an otherwise balanced approach.

Players in every other football code use an oblique approach achieving maximum accuracy and distance. Even American footballers have adopted the oblique approach over the straight approach. It is perhaps time that Australian football also considered the merits of such an approach and in so doing dispense with a rule that declares ‘play-on’ when the first step in the approach is to the side. Presently however, Franklin needs to adjust his approach to a moderate curve in the name of efficiency, and if he did so he would also accrue the benefit of not being subject to the ‘play-on’ rule.

 

 

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