Make goalkicking the goal

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Have AFL clubs forgotten to develop the game's most important skill?

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Each new AFL season brings conversations about team strategies, structures and fitness but nothing about kicking straight for goal.

Fed up with seeing so many lame shots during the NAB Cup, Mark Ricciuto claimed that goalkicking was undervalued. If he’s right, it’s an extraordinary situation considering goal scoring is the purpose of the whole exercise.

For two years now, champion Essendon full forward Matthew Lloyd has verbalised his frustration at the high number of easy goals that are missed, and the apparent lack of concern shown by players and coaches.

Both Lloyd and Ricciuto have highlighted the fact that development of goalkicking skills is not a focus of clubs – some have admitted their reluctance to indulge in lengthy goal practice sessions out of fear of causing leg injuries and others, more unbelievably, mentioned the inconvenience of having to retrieve balls – and hence it is one aspect of the game that has not improved over the years.

All clubs have forward coaches but their exact role is unclear: do they deal with forward structures or goalkicking or both? Some are classified as assistants and others as development staff.

If Lloyd and Ricciuto are correct and it appears they are, why wouldn’t a coach want to improve the goalkicking of his players?

One reason could be the perception by coaches, who are predominantly former defenders, that goal kickers are born not made.

In the case of the great full forwards and freakish goal sneaks there may be an element of truth to this, however you’ll probably find that many of these sharpshooters were largely a product of a childhood dominated by endless and solitary goal kicking practice.

The fact is goalkicking in all its manifestations is a more difficult task than general kicking, even for those with the greater skills. This is because of the mental aspect: the pressure.

You can see it on the face of defenders and many midfielders, who in the modern running game, find themselves within range of goal: the avid desire to give the ball off despite being only thirty metres out and facing a rather large stationary target that is 6.4 metres wide and as high as gravity will allow.

Forced to take the shot, their timidity forces them into fundamental errors. They either lean back and kick the ball upwards which makes he ball lose momentum and accuracy, or they try to steer the ball with a soft foot which usually results in the ball slewing off the side of the boot.

Technically there is not a lot of difference between accurate kicking in general play and shooting for goal: running straight at the target, head over the ball and kicking through the ball.

Of course, many prominent forwards have their own idiosyncratic style that works. There was  Peter Hudson’s dowdy flat punt and more recently there are Lance Franklin’s exquisitely curving left footers. Franklin’s method is capable of producing some magnificent goals but it’s also high risk which may explain his relatively poor conversion rate of 57%.

In regards to the mental pressure that makes many players go to water in front of the sticks, the clubs should employ former forwards like Lloyd to teach the fundamental procedures that all the great goal shooters perform in order to focus on that sacred space between the posts.

It was surprising to discover that none of the eighty four players who have kicked over 400 goals in their career – and that includes the great full forwards like Tony Lockett, the all time record holder for goals scored, and Hudson, who had the phenomenal goal average of 5.6 per game – have exceeded an accuracy rate of 70%.

So kicking for goal, even for the greats, is no walk in the park. But that doesn’t excuse the clubs’  seemingly haphazard approach to this fundamental skill.

If a coach wants to gain a genuine premiership winning advantage it could be as simple as putting his players in front of goal more often.

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