Could a Golf Coach have the answers to AFL's historic low 51% Goal Kicking Efficiency?
Some of the best set shot kicks in the last decade have been avid single figure golfers! Jack Riewoldt, Jack Gunstan, Brendan Goddard and Mark Lecras to name a few. I am linking their exposure to the pressures of golf, the need to develop a sound pre shot routine and the understanding of golf ball physics (understanding how and why a golf ball curves). That seems pretty technical but.. it is! If set shot kicks were something simple, the Football experts would have cracked the code but instead, we find ourselves with a record low 51% efficiency. Perhaps the knowledge and expertise of the golf coach could hold the answers to lifting goal kicking efficiency!
Golf is the only stationary ball sport which makes it unique to other ball sports. Golf has been around for hundreds of years and is a sport with the most advanced and cutting edge technology. There is plenty of studies and findings around the skillset and golf coaches have a great understanding of what affects the golf balls flight as well as how to build the ultimate pre shot routine. Understanding what influences the balls curve could be the missing link in AFL Goal Kicking Efficiency.
If we look at AFL Goal kicking, it is a closed skill where the player has time to develop their thoughts and when ready, execute their skill. Not too dissimilar to performing a golf shot! A set shot is a technical skill where you need to control the variables of what will affect an inaccurate kick and have the ability to identify traits that cause that to happen. It also requires a repeatable technique and a sound pre shot routine.
The players with a better goal kicking percentage have the perfect balance between a repeatable technique, can control the balls curve under pressure and have clarity in their pre shot routine.
I have conducted my own research (lots of spare time in lockdown) as to why the AFL Goal Kicking percentage has hit an all time 51.1% conversion rate and perhaps why it has reduced over the years. Some factors include:
Added player fatigue of the modern game: The modern game causes players to run so hard so fast and they are more fatigued when taking a set shot.
Defensive structures ensure players are leading into their 'dead pockets' through increased scouting: Defences are ensuring players are leading and receiving set shots from a low percentage area. Like basketball, teams scout oppositions and know where a player struggles to convert from. Ie: Tom Hawkins swings left to right so forcing him to lead to the right pocket is a good defensive play.
Players are unable to put in the extra reps: With such an emphasis on managing workload on the track, putting in the high reps of performing the skill puts too much fatigue in the legs and they cannot maintain the intensity of running requires for the week to week training.
Footballs with advertising on the sides now has a high gloss finish: I have found the modern football that must allow for advertising has a higher gloss finish (slides off the boot). The gloss finish reduces friction on the foot and the players ability to start the ball online is more difficult than ever before.
Game Day Footballs not 'kicked in' and are firmer: My studies have found the firmer the ball the more it curves. If the ball tilts 5 degrees when firm and not kicked in, it will curve way more than a ball that is is kicked in with the same degrees of tilt.
Lack of understanding around the factors that affect ball flight: Knowing exactly what influences a footballs flight will improve a players awareness of how to perform the skill and there is certainly a lack of this understanding in AFL football.
Understanding Ball Flight (Golf and Football)
I often ask golfers 'what is your goal for this shot' and the answer is usually an outcome based goal like 'get it on the fairway'. A football narrative would be to 'pick someone out in the crowd' but the reality is in both sports, your goal is to strike the ball on your intended start line with the correct flight. So we need to focus more on the factors affecting the execution of a good kick rather than hoping you produce the correct result. (process vs outcome based goals). In order for a player to improve their kicking technique, a better understanding of the balls flight could be very beneficial.
What influences a GOLF balls flight?
Otherwise known in golfing circles as 'Ball Flight Laws'
Club Path: The angle the club approaches to the ball
Face Angle: The angle of the club face at impact
Launch Angle: The angle of the balls initial height
Strike Location: The position the ball hits the face
Attack Angle: The angle of approach into the strike
Club Speed: How fast the club is moving at contact
Every missed hit, the player MUST know what affected the miss. If a player is unaware of what causes their bad shot, they will be more confused and have more thoughts over the ball. Which would be the exact same for an AFL player.
What influences a FOOTBALLS flight?
Key factors of goal kicking
Leg/Foot Path: The angle of the leg swing through the ball. A straighter leg path will allow for an accurate flight. Longer shots (40m+) generally requires more leg swing across the body in order to improve power and adds more room for error
Foot Angle: The amount of inversion of the foot towards the medial plane. More inversion creates a small surface area or 'sweet spot'
Strike Location: The position on the foot where the ball is struck. In golf this is huge and the skill of hitting the 'sweet spot' over and over is something that should be trained
Leg Speed: How fast the leg is moving through the strike will determine how much ball speed is generated
Ball Drop Control: How straight the balls axis can be kept from hand to foot
Torso Tilt (aka launch angle): The amount of torso flexion or extension through the strike. Early extension=higher launch
Kicking Technique Findings:
From researching techniques and speaking with players, I have found these are the absolute key pillars to goal kicking accuracy: The ability to control the balls axis from when it leaves hand to foot, being able to strike the exact same part of the foot every time and the ability to control the consistency of leg speed under pressure as the key factors that influence accuracy.
When a players ball drop forces the spin axis to tilt inconsistency, they have lost the ability to control start line/curve and will spray both sides. If the player strikes different parts of the foot, they loose accuracy. When a players leg speed changes too much, the timing of the strike is flawed and they lose control of the balls flight.
Pre Shot Routine Findings:
Golf's pre shot routine is a large part of the game and relates to every shot a player will hit. The pre shot routine differs from player to player but one thing all great golfers do is focus on the process over the outcome and be very clear on the intention of the balls flight. There may be one technical thought that the player knows helps him improve their shots ie: practising a perfect take away and they will blend that into their routine to reinforce the move.
In AFL, pre shot routine is only one small (but very important) element of the game. AFL teams would be crazy not to draw upon the significants Pre Shot Routine has in golf. The theories behind golfs pre shot routine would be the same for a goal kick pre shot routine. The player needs to focus on the intention of the shot and be more process orientated. The element the player has been working on at training to improve their accuracy may carry into the pre shot routine ie: better ball drop or the correct strike location on their foot. That would be a good focus point and would take the thoughts away from the outcome and be locked into the process.
So, how can a golf coach improve goal kicking?
Given that players are unable to put in the high reps we need to have the mindset of quality over quantity. Video analysis is such a key tool in golf instruction and could be used in such a powerful way for a players set shot routine. A golf coach can link the video analysis to how their technique will affect ball flight and begin to match intention with execution. The golf coach can be of great assistance the development of a pre shot routine as it is such an important part of coaching golf.
The confusion lies when a player is unaware of what influences a balls flight and all those factors I mentioned earlier are the keys to unlock this puzzle. A players heightened awareness of what can influence the balls flight will give them a clear intention when they are executing a shot. It works so well in improving a golfers accuracy, I cannot see why it could not cross over to AFL set shots. When a player has a better understanding of their game and the way they strike the ball, they will become more confident. More confidence leads to a better pre shot routine and if we combine those elements, the player has a great chance to improve that 51.1%.