2010 NFL Combine: Kickers & Punters: The Winning Mind

As we mentioned in a previous blog post, the NFL combine is upon us.  This week numerous kickers and punters will be evaluated in Indianapolis. They will undergo numerous testing protocols and be under an enormous amount of pressure. Geoff Miller, a sports psychologist based in San Diego, from the Winning Mind (thewinningmind.com), came by the TKS office this week to talk about the testing regimes of the combine and the state of the NFL Kicking game, Nate Kaeding and how he can help kickers. Geoff and I worked together during my tenure in arena football with the San Diego Shockwave back in 2007. I had such a great year that year, NIFL Kicker of the Year, that I owe it all to his work.   I asked him a few questions I get asked everyday here in San Diego as a kicking coach.

Q: This year was an “off” year for kickers & punters in the NFL.  Why do you think that is?

Geoff Miller:It’s hard for me to speculate as to why so many kickers and punters performed worse this year than in other years, but in general, I think the increased scrutiny on every game and every kick is a contributor.  Some of that scrutiny comes from media, fans, and even teammates and coaches and some of it’s self-imposed.  I work with athletes in a number of sports and the advances in technology, video analysis, measurement, and strength and conditioning have made it so that every last detail can be studied and improved. Kicking a football is not a skill that can be executed perfectly 100% of the time, but that’s the expectation and it’s an unrealistic one.  I see too many athletes making mistakes because they get overly focused on being perfect in their mechanics rather than just going out on the field and competing.  I’m not saying that the advanced techniques aren’t important, but I do think they contribute to kickers and punters (and golfers and pitchers, etc.) overcomplicating the game.”

Q: The testing methods they use for kicking at the combine are over 15 years old.  What would suggest as some new testing measures for kickers? David Buehler, Dallas Cowboys kicker, set a record for a kicker in the bench press last year, are those tests necessary?

Geoff Miller:I’m not in a position to speak on the testing methods for the combine, but my advice for measuring the potential of kickers in any setting would be to find out as much as possible about how they handle pressure.  That should be done by simulating game conditions as much as possible and through having kickers compete against each other as well.”

Q: How would you test the “mental” side of the game?

Geoff Miller:We have an assessment that we use with professional and Olympic athletes to identify the critical mental game factors that predict performance under pressure.  This assessment is called TAIS, which stands for The Attentional and Interpersonal Style, and we are able to directly measure how people concentrate, where they get distracted, and general personality characteristics that tell us how and when people will experience pressure.  When people are comfortable and confident, they are able to be focused and this allows them to execute their skills.  When people feel pressure, it affects the way they concentrate and makes execution more difficult. So we are often asked by professional sports teams to evaluate potential draft picks using TAIS and we outline for players and teams the mental game strengths of each player and the potential challenges players will face when they encounter pressure or have to deal with failure.”

Q: Do you recommend any certain type of tests for kickers?

Geoff Miller: “I would certainly recommend that kickers prepare mentally and learn as much about themselves as possible in advance of the combine.  Most of my use with TAIS is not done on the scouting side, but for player development.  We use TAIS to design specific programs for athletes to help them improve their performance under pressure.  And I have worked with football players to help them prepare for the pressure of the combine experience itself.  The combine has become so important to draft status that some players place too much pressure on themselves to “do well” during that weekend and that added burden impacts their speed, strength, and agility in drills, hurts their test-taking abilities which impacts their Wonderlic scores, and makes them more nervous during their interviews.”

Q:  What are your thoughts on San Diego Charger kicker Nate Kaeding? Why did he miss three field goals in the playoffs against the Jets?

Geoff Miller:Living in San Diego, I’ve been asked about Nate Kaeding a lot in the last month.  As I mentioned in my first answer, it isn’t appropriate for me to speculate on why Nate missed those kicks.  But this example of a great kicker who has missed in multiple playoff attempts demonstrates the importance of the mental game in sport.  Obviously, this is someone with elite level physical talent and something has kept him from displaying that talent when the season is on the line. And it brings to mind an example I use called “the downward spiral.”  An athlete finds himself in a pressure situation and makes a mistake.  He has trouble letting go of the mistake and instead of focusing on his NEXT opportunity to succeed; he stays focused on the LAST play that didn’t go well. This makes it more difficult to focus and another mistake is made, which increases the pressure, and so on and so on.”

Q: Do you recommend kickers working with someone such as yourself?  How often? How can it help?

Geoff Miller: “Not only do I think kickers should be working with sports psychology professionals, the most important message I would want to convey is that this is not something that should only be done when an athlete has a problem.  The best way to get the most out of yourself as an athlete is to learn the complexities that make you who you are so you can be prepared for pressure, failure, competition, and success, too.  When I work with athletes it is typically to help them make sure that they maximize the tremendous potential that they possess, not to help them “get out of a slump”.  I’ve worked with some athletes for a month and some for five years, but for kickers out there who want to get started, I think a realistic expectation would be to plan for 3-6 months.  We call our services at Winning Mind “performance coaching” and we typically meet with our athletes every other week for an hour at a time.  There are many ways a performance-coaching program can help, but my simple explanation is that performance coaching helps you to:

  1. 1. Know who you are
  2. 2. Know what you want
  3. 3. Know what to do when you don’t get what you want
  4. 4. Know what to do in the meantime while you’re figuring those things out”

More From The Kicking System

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