Kickers in football don't get a lot of attention and notoriety -- until they either make a mistake or win a game with their leg.
This doesn't mean they're not important, though…
Quite the opposite, in fact.
Kickers are so important to the game of football that one simple mistake on their part can turn a game around in the wrong direction.
On the flip side, one great kick can turn the game around in the positive direction, or even outright win a game.
If you want to become a great football kicker, there are some things you should know about the position and what skills and traits you'll need
What is a Kicker in Football?
Although a ton of attention in football goes to the running and passing plays, kicking is a crucial part of the game that usually goes unnoticed.
Kicks are an important part of the game, and a strong and accurate kicker can sometimes be the deciding factor, especially in close games.
In fact, the very first thing a team does to start each half is to kick the ball to the receiving team.
When the offense faces a 4th and long situation, a kicker will most likely come in to do either of two things.
If the offense is ‘within range’, then the kicker will most likely get set for a field goal kick to try and earn his team 3 points.
Scoring in this fashion is even more crucial when it’s the last play of a tied ball game, with seconds left in regulation.
If, however, the goal post is too far, he’ll likely have to come in for a strong, accurate punt to try to pin the receiver as close to the goal line as possible.
On successful drives that end with a touchdown, teams will most likely call their kicker in for a PAT attempt — which could very well end up being the difference between a win and a loss.
They also play an important role when their team tries to mount a comeback late in the game — when they try to win the ball back off an onside kick.
Kicker Position on the Field
Kickers are part of special teams and mostly come into play only during specific situations, as mentioned earlier.
Because kickers need space to build up before actually kicking the ball, they start each play well behind the line of scrimmage.
On most plays, kickers will line up in one of two ways.
When the down and distance situation calls for a punt, the offense will deploy with special teams, with the kicker (or in this case, the punter) lining up directly behind the long snapper.
At the snap, the punter will receive the ball then take a couple of steps before actually punting the ball.
Where the punter aims the kick and how high he’ll kick the ball will depend on the game situation.
2. Place Kicks
Another scenario is during place kicks, when the offense goes for a field goal kick or a PAT attempt.
Here, the kicker still starts well behind the line of scrimmage, but this time a holder will be lining up directly behind the long snapper.
The kicker will then position himself a few paces behind the snapper, and a tad bit to one side of him (depending on which leg the kicker kicks with).
This will give the kicker enough room to take a few steps and gather momentum before actually kicking the ball towards the goal posts.
Finally, the last scenario a kicker will come into play is during kickoffs.
This occurs at the start of every half, and after every successful score – whether its a PAT or a field goal.
Here, all players on the kicking team will lineup five yards behind the restraining line, with the place kicker lined up even further back to give him space to build up his kick.
What Does a Kicker Do?
As we can see, the kicker is probably the most underrated position in all of football.
These players can totally go unnoticed mostly throughout a game but can also end up getting all the attention when the game goes down the wire.
Here are a few things kickers need to do to have a solid impact on a game:
1. Kick Consistently
The main responsibility of the position, as the name suggests, is to be able to kick the ball consistently.
They have to consistently perform their main duties "up to par."
What separates great kickers from ordinary ones is the ability to repeat their solid performance on a consistent basis.
Those who are erratic in their performance aren't able to make far very often.
For punters, this means they need to use the right punting technique to consistently boot the ball far or put it in a specific place when needed.
For place kickers, this means they need kick the ball right and convert extra point and field goal attempts on a consistent basis.
2. Must "Stay Hidden"
This isn't necessarily a role or responsibility, but rather an indication that a football kicker is doing a good job.
One of the famous sayings about referees in sports are that the best ones go almost completely unnoticed.
If referees become a focal point of a game, it most likely means that they've missed a call or aren't having a great game.
The same goes for kickers.
When they're doing their job well, they're hardly ever noticed.
The game just keeps going, and most of the attention goes to other players.
When they do get noticed, more times than not, it's because they've failed to perform well.
Either they missed an easy field goal or extra point attempt, or a punter shanked a punt.
The one obvious and more than acceptable exception is when a kicker becomes the focal point of a game because he nailed a high-pressure winning field goal, for example.
3 Successful Kicker Traits
If you’re looking to elevate your game as a kicker, here are a few traits you’ll need to work on and develop:
1. Strong Legs
This one might be obvious, but kickers need to have strong legs, as they use them to kick the ball far and with a lot of power.
But, it's not just their kicking legs that must be strong...
They must have a lot of lower-body strength overall to help them pivot, plant, and push off.
Kickers use their strong legs to boot the ball far downfield.
At the same time, they need to be very flexible because the motion their bodies take in order to do so isn't very natural.
They will essentially "swing" their lower bodies around in order to get the proper power behind their kicks.
In many ways, this is very similar to how baseball pitchers must move and twist their bodies in order to throw a ball fast.
3. Mental Toughness
Kickers aren't called on to actually play in a big percentage of a football game.
When called on, though, their job is extremely important.
As mentioned earlier, a lot rests on the legs of football kickers.
Whether it's a punter, a place kicker or a kickoff specialist, these players have very important jobs, and a game can turn one way or the other based off the few plays they're involved in.
Not only do the need to perform in high-pressure situations where they're singled out from all other players, they need to stay focused while sitting for most of a game.
They can't let their mind wander or lose focus just because they haven't been on the field for a while.
Best Kickers of All Time
Here’s my take on the top 10 NFL Kickers of all time (so far):
1. Justin Tucker
2. Adam Vinatieri
3. Morten Andersen
4. Lou Groza
5. Stephen Gostkowski
6. Gary Anderson
7. George Blanda
8. Jason Hanson
9. Matt Prater
10. Jason Elam
Here are a few tips to help take your kicking game to the next level:
1. Build Strength
A lot of football kickers on TV look very small, at least compared to most of the other players on the team.
And that's true... they are often smaller compared to other football players.
But that doesn't mean they aren't strong.
If you want to be a great football kicker you need to hit the weight room and dedicate your training to building strength.
One of the nice things about being a kicker is that you can focus a majority of your off-field work to building strength.
You don't have to worry as much about building stamina, for example.
2. Stretch Frequently
As mentioned, it's very important to build flexibility.
And a great way to do this is to stretch a lot.
Create a comprehensive stretching program and stick to it consistently.
Get a partner or a coach to help you get an extra stretch in so that your body can contort in ways that you wouldn't be able to do on your own.
This will help you be able to swing your body in the motion that's needed to complete a successful kicking motion -- whether you're a place kicker, punter or kickoff specialist.
Kicker is one of the least glorious positions in all of football.
It can be a thankless position, as they are often chided when they make mistakes.
While there certainly isn't a lot of room for error, it's an extremely important position to the game.
So, if you want to be a great football kicker, follow the guide above.