Well this one's been coming for a long time. And it's the first of quite a few more. AFL goal kicking conversion rates - they've been a focal point of mine for years, but now is the time to act.
Comments by the Channel 7 commentary team about events during the round 11 Sydney versus Essendon match have sparked me into action. It's half time as I write and Essendon trail Sydney by 37 points. And while Sydney have completely outplayed Essendon all over the field; they've also kicked 8 goals 6 points to Essendon's 1 goal and 11 points. 1 goal 11 points!!!!!
Last week Essendon (8 wins & 2 losses) lost to Melbourne (0 & 10) by kicking 6 goals 16 points to Melbourne's 8 goals 10. Essendon missed 7 of 7 set shots in that game. This is just one small example of a problem that is endemic in AFL. So called media experts, and even some football coaches are good at identifying the problem when it shows up in an obvious way, such the Essendon games above, but have no idea as to why it's happening or how to significantly improve goal kicking conversion rates. I say this because the stats haven't changed for years - what has been done hasn't worked.
I'm here to say that I've got some answers.
Typical reasons are things like technique, pressure, fatigue and even more recently, kicking around the corner:
Technique Technique is the obvious one of course. The old chestnut that everyone has been banging on about for years. It can easily been seen and it's easy to analyse and create a multitude of "important technical changes". The thing is, while the kicking action needs to be consistent and precise, and it will obviously influence ball flight and accuracy, the way to influence technique is rarely through conscious technical changes, and certainly not through the typical technical instruction approach which has, by the way, also failed most golfers for decades. More on this in future posts.
Pressure Pressure, in the form of perceived meaning of the result (psychologically self created), and time and space restriction by the opposition occurs, but nevertheless can be trained for. "You can't reproduce game intensity and scoring importance" I hear everyone boringly cry in desperation again. Yes this is true, but you can do a lot to control the "controllables", to give you the best inoculation against game "pressures". And it's not getting done. Again more on this later.
Fatigue Even in tonight's game Matthew Richardson, the ex-Richmond Football Club forward and noted shockingly inaccurate goal kicker, declared that because of the intensity of the way the game is played these days, players are taking shots at goal under high fatigue, and this is causing them to miss more shots. Ok. Not bad reasoning for a teenager, but no excuse. No doubt accuracy-based motor skills are much harder to execute successfully when under fatigue. But if this is the case, then train it. Simple. Train it. Train converting shots on goal at a higher % when under fatigue. The principle of specificity isn't that hard to appreciate. So fatigue? No excuse and shouldn't be a factor in limiting goal kicking skill potential.
Around the corner On a slightly different note, the kicking around the corner approach for closer shots from an acute angle (as opposed to the traditional straight line run up) is also brought up. We need to make a distinction here. One is the "play on" version from a mark or free kick, and the other is the set shot with an around the corner approach (picture the hooked run up for a place kick in Rugby or the way they shoot at goal in Gaelic football). While everyone will have a different opinion on the effectiveness of this approach and the reasons why, to me this one seems simple and it seemed simple to me when I used to kick for goals down the park as a kid. By "playing on" from a mark or free kick , the player potentially maintains/creates a more of a flow state, and also avoids physical & psychological "blocking" in their kicking action and thinking that gets in the way of skilled movement. Effectively, players who employ this tactic are trading time & space for flow & present state awareness. By bending the ball around the corner, 2 factors are optimised: ball impact and angle of ball flight. With this way there's more margin for error at impact point (the foot meeting more of the ball) than on a regular straight shot at goal. Also, when you bend the ball "out" and then back into the goals the goal face and width is opened up by the ball flight. Again, this allows greater margin for error on flight path while still being successful. Compare this to a straight line shot at goal on a similarly narrow angle - much reduced successful ball impact points and ball flight path options. For this trend we have to be thankful for Steven Milne of St.Kilda and Steve Johnson of Geelong. They have really evolved a significant part of the game for the better.
Now I happen to think all this this stuff I've mentioned isn't that earth shattering. Maybe a bit clearer in its view than the typical commentator but nothing of breakthrough proportion, in my opinion. The factors above challenge accurate goal kicking, be it set shots, shots on the run or snaps shots, but the common denominator is that they are ALL TRAINABLE. However while these are all factors at a superficial level, they are not the ultimate cause of long standing, league-wide, poor goal kicking conversion rates in AFL.
If you want to kick more goals, win more games and win the big games, be sure tune in for the coming weeks.
In coming articles I will cover:
1. The critical importance of converting well
2. The current lay of the land in relation to AFL goal kicking and how clubs aren't walking their own talk
3. The reason why AFL conversion rates are so ordinary and haven't improved for decades.
4. What can and needs to be done for those who are serious about their chances of winning and wining big games.
5.The massive opportunity for clubs who are able to embrace a paradigm shift
And for the record? Essendon 11goals 16points, Sydney 13, 8. Essendon lost by 4 points. And that was just a regular season game.