Punting Mechanics 101

Coach Greg Montgomery will be working with select athletes this summer in Grand Rapids, MI.

These instruction sessions include a full bio-mechanic evaluation, custom workout program, one on one instruction and film analysis.

Contact Greg at gmonty23@gmail.com or 616-443-5476 to discuss his availability.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Hard Work and Perseverance

Here's a quick story of hard work and perseverance.

For the last year I've been working with punter Jim Squatriglia from North Carolina. I originally met Jim at The University of Alabama kicking camp in 2013 when Jim was offensive lineman/punter at Fork Union Military Academy. As I was instructing the campers on how to 'set their leg' and 'pull thru the ball' in order to create lag and generate footspeed, Jim's father Rob( who is an avid tennis player and Tai Qwon Do expert) noticed the similarities with the Set & Pull punting technique and martial arts. We had a great conversation on the mechanics of punting and the universal movements that are constant in all athletic activities. Basically, we must create lag in order to build kinetic energy which maximizes power with minimal effort.... The paradox of sports and life - Less is More.

Making the transition from offensive lineman to a full time punter would be an arduous task for any athlete at any level. The body movements and skill sets are polar opposites. I informed Jim we must shift our mindset to that of the Peaceful Warrior and allow our body to unfold naturally. Jim originally was a 'hitter', using his quad to hit the ball. When we squeeze our muscles, they actually tense up and slow down. By 'letting go' and allowing our muscles to move freely, they move much faster with less effort. Jim has made the transition from a 'hitter' to a 'ball striker'

With that being said, I'd like to show you the difference that a year of hard work makes. The first clip is of Jim in 2014. You'll notice long methodical steps as he forces his leg to 'hit' the ball with a straight leg at impact. He comes out of his posture and doesn't finish his stroke.Though our mind thinks that more effort will produce better results, the exact opposite is true.


This next clip is of Jim this year. Notice how fast his leg comes through the hitting zone. He sets his leg properly and pulls it through the ball without straightening his leg and squeezing at impact. His steps are compact and he finishes his stroke nicely. His lower leg snaps so quickly, to the naked eye it looks as if it never straightens. This punt stayed in the air for 5.0 seconds. What a difference proper mechanics can make when we focus on the process and 'let go in order to gain control'.


Catch to Kick


           In a typical NFL game, the punter has 1.2 seconds to punt the football. I'll say it again. From catch to kick, it takes One Point Two Seconds to complete the punting process. No time to think. Only time to react. Muscle memory takes over and it seems like a blur. 

       We must learn to 'slow it down'.  And in order to do this,  your mechanics must be sound and mind totally clear.

            As you can imagine, anxiety is very common in professional sports. And athletes handle this in many different ways. Why do we get so stressed out before(and during) games? This is supposed to be fun. What are the triggers? How do we deactivate the source? Is it possible to play 'stress free'?  In a word, yes.

       When I played, I did my best to block out the pressure. I used to take a deep breath and just do it. But no matter how hard I tried, I always struggled. Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves? For me it was the frustration of not knowing EXACTLY how the mechanics worked and playing with pain. The constant desire to prove myself. Never wanting to let my teammates/coaches/fans down. Wanting to be 'perfect'. My unquiet mind.

       It turns out it all was an illusion. I created the pressure by constantly focusing on the 'results' versus the 'process'. And I truly didn't know exactly how the punting motion really worked. That's because it's never been taught....... until now. The Set & Pull 5.0 ........ The Move.

       This is why I enjoy coaching so much. Sharing my wisdom. Giving punters the tools to be great. My 12 years removed from professional football have been spent dissecting both the mechanics of the punting motion and the mental skills needed in the punting game. How the body and brain work under pressure. How to relax and allow our body to unfold naturally. How it serves no purpose putting unnecessary pressure on ourselves. Worrying about things we can't control. Wondering if the coaches are happy with our performance. Wondering if the wind will be blowing left or right on game day. Wondering if we're going to get a good snap. Hoping we'll have a good drop.  Wondering. Thinking. Worrying.

          Relax.  Read and React.  Pay attention to the process. The results will come.

      The trick is to entirely remove 'results' from our mind. We have 1.2 seconds. The catching of the ball, the setting of the leg, the pulling of the knee, the release of the drop and the snapping of the leg. All in 1.2 seconds. It happens that fast.

       I've learned that our minds are extremely powerful. I've learned that we're actually in control of our thoughts. 'The Zone' is a skill that needs to practiced.  Learning to 'watch our thoughts', quiet our minds and stay in the zone can lead to unbelievable results on and off the field.

         Focus on what you can control. The present. The process........  The Catch to Kick.

    This what I do.

    This is what I can teach you.


Punting w Soccer Balls Promotes Balance

   One of the hardest things for punters to 'unlearn' is throwing the drop out away from the body. This promotes an early release of the knee; therefore reaching(with the lower leg/foot) for the ball. By promoting a hitting position closer to the body, the ball is simply placed where to foot will be as the knee is pulled along the powerful arc.

   I recently worked w Western Carolina punter Clark Sechrest in Charlotte, NC. One of the first things I do, after teaching the principles of the Set & Pull movement, is have the punter strike soccer balls into a net. I'm finding that working with soccer balls serves a few purposes. 1) It promotes 'letting go' and allowing the lower leg to snap naturally, 2) It takes the athlete away from being 'results oriented'; eliminating the mindset of trying to hit a good punt, 3) By not worrying about 'results', the athlete can remain in a solid hitting position w solid balance and posture, 4) By using a soccer ball, the athlete doesn't get bogged down with trying to swing a certain way in order to make the oblong football spin down field.

    By not worrying about hitting a football,  I find that the athletes can groove the proper mechanics, ingraining the feeling of being a 'ball striker' versus a 'hitter'.We snap our leg violently and simply put the ball in the way.

  Notice Clark's short steps, balance and  body position as he effortlessly strikes the ball .....


Creating 'Lag' Equals Power


           Creating 'Lag' is the most important aspect of the punting motion that equates to lower leg speed and power. It all begins with the 'Setting' of the lower leg and knee. As we 'post up' on our plant leg, we violently 'Pull' our  upper leg along the arc of the swing. This will in turn create kinetic energy as we hold our lower leg in position until our knee 'clears' the ball on the way up the arc of the swing.

     Acting like the action of a whip, our upper leg continues up the arc of our swing as we release the lower leg through the impact zone. In order to take advantage of this stored energy, proper spine angle, alignment and posture needs to be maintained throughout the the punting motion.

When done properly, we're mimicking the 'lag' action that takes place in every golf and baseball swing.

Posture - Maintaining Spine Angle and Neutral Hips

      After working with many of my D1 and NFL punters, I've found that maintaining proper posture upper/lower spine angle while  keeping our hips in a neutral position (no slide)  throughout the kicking motion is imperative if we want to consistently strike the football. A rock solid plant leg is just as important.

     One way of practicing posture and neutral hips is to punt/kick a soccer ball while maintaining our posture(shoulders,lower back, hips). By using a soccer ball, we're not worried about 'outcome' and can then let our leg snap fluently through the impact zone.

     I've included a couple clips of Cincinnati Bengals P Kevin Huber working this drill. We want to make sure our shoulders square and hips are in the neutral position during this drill. You'll notice how Kevin sets his leg, pulls his knee, snapping his foot through the hitting zone and then collapses his knee on his kicking leg.....all with great balance. This will help us avoid rolling our hips under and coming out of our posture. The first clip is with a soccer ball, then the next clip is with a football. Notice his posture, nice drop in front of his hip and his leg 'lifting' through the impact zone. His 'Set" knee actually passes the ball as he 'Pulls' his lower leg through the impact zone.



Proper Posture - Upper/Lower Spine Angle

  After many sessions with top punters in college and the NFL,  I've concluded  that in order to maximize foot speed, the spine needs to be in a firm, neutral position at impact. By maintaining a solid base (hips, lower back), our leg is then in a position to move freely and snap through the hitting zone. We want to maintain our posture with the feeling of 'standing tall' throughout the process.

Neutral Hips

   One of the most common areas of concern with punters and kickers is the ability to maintain neutral hips throughout the punting/kicking stroke. A solid , well aligned core is 'a must' if you want to consistently punt/kick the football. As in golf, we want to maintain a straight upper and lower spine angle throughout the kicking process. The feeling of 'sitting on a stool' is one way of getting the proper hip position.

    There are way too many athletic adjustments needed when we lose our neutral hip position.It's very easy to slide our hips, which in turn causes us to release our knee early and lengthen our leg. The next adjustment is to lean back in order to make contact.By working on strengthening our core, the hips will remain neutral and will give you a better chance of being a consistent punter/kicker.

Good Punting - UG

Mental Conditioning

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        Allowing our minds to get cluttered with ANTs(Automatic Negative Thoughts) is probably the number one reason why athletes' struggle .... on and off the field.

     The more and more I train my college/NFL athletes, the more and more I realize the importance of mental conditioning. All great players experience some form of 'performance anxiety'. And in the end, the level of this anxiety will be determined by our knowledge(or lack of) how the human mind actually works.

     During my playing days,  I was 'my own worst critic'. Not only did I worry about being 'accepted' as a football player, but I constantly dreaded about 'letting my team down'...... This might have served as good motivation.... a 'dangling carrot' if you will. But in hindsight, I would've approached things differently

      Due to the current 'big business' arena of college and professional athletics, there are a multitude of 'stressors' that can trigger 'performance anxiety'.......Money, relationships, academics, pride, EGO, guilt, shame ....... the list is endless. To get our hands around 'mental conditioning', we must first  define performance anxiety

       Performance anxiety is the anxiety, fear, or persistent phobia which may be aroused in an individual by the requirement to perform in front of an audience, whether actually or potentially (for example, when performing before a camera). In the context of public speaking, this fear is termed glossophobia, one of the most common of phobias. Such anxiety may precede or accompany participation in any activity involving public self-presentation. In some cases stage fright may be a part of a larger pattern of social phobia or social anxiety disorder, but many people experience stage fright without any wider problems. Quite often, stage fright arises in a mere anticipation of a performance, often a long time ahead. It has numerous manifestations: fluttering or pounding heart, tremor in the hands and legs, sweaty hands, diarrhea, facial nerve tics, dry mouth. For more information, see (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Performance_anxiety).
     Thirteen(13) years removed from the game, I've discovered that when it comes to anxiety, 'our pain is self chosen'..... Meaning ....... we actually choose to let external circumstances(things we can't control) distract us. And in doing so, our  performance(s) can/will be effected negatively. So the real question is "What's the secret to offsetting the ANTs?" ........... The remedy might surprise you. 

     The answer can be found in the story about the athlete who said to his doctor, "Hey Doc, it hurts when I do this"...... and the doctor simply replied,  "Well..., don't do that!". 

     Sounds simple, but the only way to overcome these ANTs is through education, hard work, preparation and practice. The only thing we can control is the 'process' ... the time between 'catch to kick' ...... or basically 1.2 seconds. So when we discover 'how' to focus on 'what we can control'(the process), the 'product' of our actions(results) will take care of itself.

    ......... UG

'The Power of Now' by Eckhart Tolle is a 'must read' on the road to mental wellness ........