Nick has written a great article for goal kickers which you can view on his site here and I was keen to learn what mental tips and tricks he uses to back up this technical competence. There is some great advice contained here and I have jumped in at the end too and drawn the lines between this advice for kickers and what you non-rugby players can learn and apply in your own lives. If you enjoy what you’re reading check out his site and say hello on twitter @nickmccashin.
Goal Kicking Mindset (Nick McCashin)
In today’s game mindset is crucial for top performing rugby players, in fact all professional athletes. A lot of people have asked me what is a great goal kicker? I normally say most great kickers have big balls... In all seriousness the difference between good and great might not be ability but mindset.
Have you ever watched a professional game of rugby and specifically watched the goal kicker effortlessly slot 5 from 5? Regardless of the crowd size, noise, who they are playing and where they are playing. They systematically go through their routine and 80-100% of the time the ball sails through the posts….
I have always admired professional players who step up for the team and nail the penalty or goal that will determine the game and as the result of that kick can brand you as the hero or the loser. I know what it is like to be on both ends of that final kick. As a kicker if I let the team down (which was thankfully fairly rare) I tended to punish myself a lot. As I got older I realised this self punishment did no favours for my confidence and always affected later kicks in the game or my performance on the field. Negative self talk is never going to help you. Learning to go through each kick as its individual kick can help and to never see your kicking as 5 total kicks but more to see it as 5 single kicks each different. After a missed kick the next kick is never the same as the first so how can it be measured as a group?
I originally thought I just needed to work harder or try harder. I kicked and kicked and kicked late into the night and still my percentage during game time stayed around the same. So once I had mastered the skill in practise I went looking for the information I needed. The information that someone had that could help me learn to get there.
There are lots of techniques to help with mindset and a lot can be learnt from the best players in the world. Here are a few examples that I’ve used and liked:
Visualisation: Leigh Halfpenny imagines the ball is tied to a piece of string and then the other end is tied to an imagined poll in the middle of the posts. He visualises the ball travelling on this path through the posts hitting the poll. I have developed my own version of this. I imagine a door behind the posts about half way up in the middle. I would say to myself ‘through doorway’ and imagine myself kicking the ball and it passing through the posts and hitting the door handle of the door. In the words of Mel Gibson in the movie the Patriot “Aim small, miss small”.
The black spot: This technique was taught to me by a very knowledgeable Rugby man David Mays who runs Rugby Vault. If you tilt the ball forward on the tee the sweet spot is around 1/3 of the way up the ball from the ground or tee. I would draw a big circle on the ball with a black marker pen right where the sweet spot was. This became my focus. After mastering the skill I needed focus to make sure I kicked the correct point every time.
It has become my focus point to keep a clear mind and be present within myself and the kick. I repeat the words black spot, black spot, black spot as I approach the ball to close off any outside noise and zero in on the task of kicking. With this small mindset shift I dramatically improved my success rate as I had a single thought in my head. (I wish I had have learnt this earlier in my career)
Traffic light feedback: Once I had found my kicking style and technique I knew if I were to be successful I needed to get three things right. I had to get my plant foot square and aiming at the posts, connect with my black spot or sweet spot and the follow through. After each kick I would imagine a set of traffic lights and I would evaluate each part. Green for great, Yellow not quiet my best or Red = mistake and needed fixing. The aim was always to get Green, Green, Green showing. I would do this directly after each kick and then move onto the next task. Firstly this helped me improve each time, identifying any specific area I needed to focus on and secondly put a full stop at the end of the kick so it didn’t affect other parts of my game or the next kick.
Translating the lessons (Jamie)
Reading through Nick’s excellent piece there are several big lessons I can see which easily translate into the real world. Given these are all things we’ve discussed on the site before I’m hoping you can spot them. Maybe go back and see what you can pull out of it before reading on. For me these lessons are:
- Identify whether an area you are struggling in is due to technical deficiency or limiting beliefs. What is your self-talk about it? Are you being overly critical? Often it is the story we tell ourselves that holds us back, not our true competence at a task. Pay attention to your self-talk and take action if needs be.
- Develop a next job mentality. If something goes wrong you have 2 choices. You can dwell on it and let the issue seep it into other areas of your work or you can draw a line and move on. The latter is the helpful choice and is a great example of the next job mentality. Say you have a day of client meetings and the first one is a disaster. If you let that effect you then the entire day of meetings will likely follow suit. Instead pause, get yourself settled, and push on. You can learn from the first meeting later, now you’ve got work to do.
- Visualise what you want. If you enter into a situation knowing what the desired outcome is for you then you will be more likely to get it. Have a vision of what that situation will look like and identify the key actions along the way. Going into interactions with this in mind counts as practice and will help you achieve your goal.
- Focus on the micro. When trying to perform at anything there is usually a dizzying complexity we can get lost in. This makes it very difficult to focus our energies and get the right outcome. Instead we need to distil the micro from the macro. What is the one thing that will give you the best chance of success? For Nick it was focusing on the sweet spot of the ball. Doing this blanked out the crowd, the pressure and all the other technicalities. What is the sweet spot for you in your day? Find it and focus on it.
- Give yourself feedback. In order to learn and improve you need to know what went well and what needs work. Splitting your task down into chunks and reviewing each in part is a great way of simplifying the complexity and identifying any weak links in the chain.
I hope you’ve found today’s post helpful and interesting. If you’d like to hear more from Nick or anyone else through the blog do let me know. Finally, if you haven’t already, chuck your email in the box on the side and you’ll get every post delivered to your inbox for free.