by Tim Nash
The art of punting is a skill that is sometimes taken for granted. Goalkeepers with long, accurate punts can change the course of a game with one swift kick. Unfortunately, it is a skill that is not usually fully developed. Keepers, through lack of instruction, often develop bad habits that inevitably lead to poor kicks. Too many punts travel out of bounds, turning a potential counter-attack into a throw-in for the other team.
Tony DiCicco, head coach of the U.S. Women's National Team and a former goalkeeper, believes that a good understanding of the fundamentals involved, combined with a practice and repetition, can lead to consistently effective punting.
The following are seven steps goalkeepers can take to improve their punting.
"I won't try to teach all of these at once," warns DiCicco. "It's good for a goalie to work on one or two. Perfect them, and move on to something else."
1. Fundamentals First: There are some simple rules that goalkeepers should know and follow when they punt the ball. Like anything else, you have to understand how before you can improve.
"The ankle should be locked with the toe pointing down," says DiCicco. "You should hit the ball with the laces of your shoe. If you hit the ball with the laces and have a good follow through, you will get the greatest distance on your kicks. If you strike the ball lower on your toe, you will not hit the ball on the sweet spot, and it will travel lower. The higher on your foot you hit the ball, the higher the ball will travel and you'll get topspin.
"Contact should be made even in height to a point just below the knee, and there should be a good follow through. And you should land on your kicking foot. If you start too high, the kick will go to high, and you won't get much distance. If you start too low, the kick will go too low."
2. Punt, Repeat, Punt, Repeat: Like any other skill in soccer, punting requires many hours of practice to perfect it.
"It's no secret that the key to improving punts is repetition, repetition, repetition," says DiCicco.
Goalkeeper trainers can teach the fundamentals and help a player understand the basic of punting, but most of the improvement will be made when the players work by themselves.
"I tell young players at my camp that I am not going to improve their punting this week," says DiCicco. "I can improve their diving, their punching, their catching, but their punting won't improve in a week. What I can do is give them a start and then they have to keep it going."
The best way to work on punting by yourself is by kicking a ball into a net. While you won't be able to see actual distance, you won't have to chase the balls all over the field, increasing the amount of time you can actually spend on kicking.
3. Develop a Pattern: DiCicco believes that the most important thing a goalkeeper can do to improve punting consistency is to create a ritual.
"This helps you relax and concentrate," DiCicco says. "It's very much like when a basketball player takes a foul shot. He goes through a ritual and does the same thing every time. It helps him get into a set routine and enables him to concentrate."
Watch many world-class goalkeepers and see what they do just before they punt the ball. It is generally the same each time. They may bounce the ball three times before starting their approach. They may tap the toes of their kicking foot on the ground behind them. They may do a couple of quick squats to loosen up.
Whatever you choose to do, DiCicco says that it is important to do the same things in the same order each time. He also believes that there should be a purpose to your ritual. In other words, don't develop a ritual just for the sake of doing something. Everything you do should be done to help you relax and concentrate on your kick.
4. Relax: DiCicco says that it is essential to relax before and during your kicks. Don't rush into punts because you will not be able to properly execute the mechanics of the kick. The ritual should help you relax, allowing you to concentrate on the things that are important in punting. To help yourself relax, make taking a deep breath - or anything else that relaxes you.
5. Hand-Foot Coordination: If you are right-footed, you should drop the ball with your right hand. If you were to drop the ball with your left hand, you are forcing your body to be in an award position, and you will not be able to hit the ball straight on. However, if you drop the ball with your right hand, your shoulders are square and your body is facing the field.
"A common mistake that young players make is that if they are right-footed they drop the ball with their left hand, so they are working against their bodies in an unnatural way," says DiCicco. "If you are just walking down the street, your left hand moves with your right foot and your right hand moves with your left foot. This is the way it should be with punting, too."