Coaching Tips and Advice for Kicking in Rugby
Three out of five methods for scoring in rugby are achieved through kicking the ball, which makes the kicker a valuable asset to any team.
In addition an arsenal of different kinds of kicks — from on the ground grubber kicks to punts, torpedo kicks, and high flying up-and-unders — can give every player on your team the edge that’ll make the difference in a close match. It isn’t just penalty kicks and conversions that win games, and it’s not only the fly-half that should learn how to kick.
Like most rugby techniques however, knowing how to do something only gets you so far — knowing when to kick and what kick to use are just as important to a good kicking game. Rugby Skills and Drills has a wealth of material on good kicking technique and practices that will up your advantage on the pitch.
Learn the Grubber Kick
The grubber kick can be a fantastic way to get through a strong defense and moving offence forward. At the same time, because the kick is used primarily by a fast moving attacking team, the grubber kick can be a difficult one for players to pick up. It requires a lot of coordination and speed in order to recover the ball once past the defense, and therefore also depends on a certain finesse in kicking – not too hard or fast, or you risk losing control of the ball, not too slow or you risk not getting past the defense. This can be a challenging skill to pick up, but with a little bit of practice, the grubber kick is a great tool to have when faced with a strong defending team.
Grubber kick drills are intended to improve hand-eye-foot coordination during fast paced game play, as well as aim and strategy. Players should learn not only the technique of kicking the ball end over end, but also learn to look for holes in the defense where a grubber kick might prove advantageous, such as between two charging players.
For senior rugby union players, the following drills should be more than enough to get comfortable using the grubber kick on a more regular basis both in practice and play. As always, warm-up before starting on drills to help prevent injury.
Tip #1: Master the Basics
Start out with a row of cones that can simply be targets while you learn how to make a standing grubber kick. Focus on your technique and keep it consistent. The ball should drop to about knee height or slightly lower before the foot makes contact at either the top of the foot or near the instep. As a result, the ball should drive into the ground and roll end over end, with a healthy amount of top spin giving the ball its unpredictable bounce that is characteristic of a good grubber kick.
Tip #2: Increase the Challenge
As you start to feel comfortable with the standing grubber kick, add a bit of challenge by incorporating movement into the drill with some simple chase and recover drills. Set out two cones 10 metres apart. Run toward the first cone and drop the ball onto your foot to make the kick as you pass the cone. The kick should be just as you’ve practiced standing still, driving straight forward end over end, but you should be able to recover it before reaching the second cone. Vary your speed and practice until you can regularly recover the ball before it passes the second cone.
Tip #3: Make it Real
The best way to practice is with the team. A more advanced version of these drills more closely mirrors match play, with teams of four to five actually practicing getting the ball past defending teams of the same or increased numbers. As you and your team mates improve, increase defense numbers or decrease attack numbers.
Note that kicking during play for children is discouraged in order to encourage running and scoring tries. For players at this age, kicking to restart the match may be used.
However kicking during play is allowed from under 11s to under 13s and it’s a good time as any to start teaching budding rugby stars the ins and outs of kicking.
Don’t forget many super start goal kickers started their kicking practice in his parent’s back yard at the early age of eight!
With everyone looking on, a place kick can be one of the most difficult kicks mentally, not only but especially for kids. Good focus and concentration are a must, as well as careful placement of the ball before run up.
The following tips when making the place kick should help keep players steady, focused, and strong for the kick.
- Start small and close to the goal posts. As players improve, get them to move further from the posts.
- Practice as you play. It’s a mantra you hear over and over and it is never so vital as before the place kick. They should position the ball the same way every time, whether up straight or slightly angled to expose the sweet spot. Most kickers aim the ball with the pin pointed at the goal posts and suggests that if the kicker keeps his/her eye on the same spot on the ball for every kick, the player will never miss that sweet spot.
- Get players to practice visualising techniques before the run up. With their eyes on the ball, have them visualise the foot kicking through the ball and visualise the ball going through the posts. It is commonly thought that visualisation and mental practice can improve muscle memory and physical performance, and numerous professional athletes use this technique, including Johnny Wilkinson and Tiger Woods.
- The kicker should make contact with the hard part of the foot. Whilst keeping his/her weight above the ball and other leg planted. Studies show that the speed of the kicking foot directly correlates with the velocity of the ball. The further extended the leg when it reaches the ball, the faster the foot – but players should not extend the leg too far because doing so can strain the knee.
- The kicker should kick through the ball and follow through the kick. The kick should end with the kicking foot pointed towards the goal posts, and hips and shoulders facing the posts. Always watch young players’ techniques and try to catch issues early on. Even poor follow through can result in over extension or strained hamstrings.
Three out of these four steps are about focus and follow through before and after making contact with the ball.
A great kick is mostly about mental preparation and focus than anything else. Good technique can also save the kicker an injury!