Many times kickers ask me how they can become better in the offseason. There are many ways that you can improve but one of the most important aspects is the mental game. I got a Master’s degree in Sport Psychology at the University of Tennessee and I firmly believe that my experiences with the mental game were the reason I was a Freshman All American and All SEC during my senior season.
Being mentally tough is a skill. I can’t tell you if you are just born with it but I do know that youcan develop more mental toughness. So many times it comes from how you were raised. I believe in the tyranny of small decisions, meaning that every decision you make will lead you to having more character or less character. Character and mental toughness go hand in hand because when times are hard you need to have a habit of fighting through adversity. Kicking is handling adversity and succeeding under pressure.
This season I have seen kickers that have had similar talent succeed and others fail because of their mental toughness. Some kickers go into a game with a mindset that they will be successful while others are just hoping that they can get the kick over and done. You have to relish in the moment and you have to want to be on the field when the game is on the line. I remember in 2004 when I was playing on the road against Ole Miss. At the end of the game we were trailing by 3 points with about 2 minutes left in the game and we were getting in field goal range. It was third down and 16 from the 30 yard line and if we didn’t gain another yard I would have tried a 47 yard field goal to tie the game. I remember thinking about how poor my warm up had been, how the wind was in my face and how I was worried I was going to miss the kick if we attempted it. On that third down play Erik Ainge completed a 25 yard pass to Bret Smith for a touchdown and I was the happiest person on the field that we had scored a touchdown rather than trying a field goal. I knew that my mindset had to change and I knew that to be successful I had to want to kick in every situation.
Most fans and even coaches don’t understand the pressure involved with being the kicker. There are not any “ok” field goals. The kicks are either good or no good and there is no gray area. Great kickers have a maturity to them and take ownership of their performance. It is always your fault on a miss even if it is not always your fault. Snap, hold, protection, and the elements are all factors that kickers have as variables in their performance.
Preparation is key to being a great kicker. Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind” and this could not be more true when it comes to kicking. Prepare yourself for situations mentally. Know the stadium conditions, wind, and temperature before you ever go to the stadium. Work on your mental game through visualization and through outside reading.
Here are two books I would recommended:
Wilhoit kickers are having unparalleled success on the field but I hope you are not neglecting the mental aspect of your game. Even if you have superior technique, you still need the mental toughness to succeed under pressure. Take the initiative to work on your mental toughness because it can make the difference when striving for your goals.