How To Improve Your AFL Kicking Technique
Kicking with control, distance and speed is the most critical skill you'll encounter in Aussie Rules. The drop punt is the most basic and frequently used kicking technique in Australian rules football – allowing your team to remain in possession of the football when targeted accurately and creating opportunities to gain the greatest distance.
Mastering the drop punt by practicing AFL kicking drills is essential to build the foundations for more complex and specialised kicking styles like the torpedo punt and cheekside punt (‘banana kick’).
How to drop punt
1. Set up: Line up your body with hips square with the desired direction of the football. Position your head slightly slanted over the ball.
2. Grip: Hold the ball vertically with the nose or ‘cross’ end of the footy facing the ground at a slight angle, and laces facing forwards. Spread hands evenly on either side of the ball, with thumbs pointing naturally towards the top of the main seam without touching it, about three quarter the way up the laces. A proper grip (controlled without squeezing) translates to effective stability and allows gravity to work in your favour in the following steps.
3. Guide the ball: Lower the ball with the guiding hand (the equivalent hand to your kicking foot). The non-guiding hand is used solely to support the ball until this point. The football should be positioned in front of your kicking leg, from thigh to just above knee height.
4. Ball drop: Keep the ball straight and release when the kicking foot is raised into the kick. This will allow time for the kicking foot to build up power before impact. During the kick your non-guiding arm should swing up and out to the side in an arc motion, keeping about in line with your shoulder to improve balance.
5. Impact: Create a stable and firm kicking platform by fully extending foot and ankle on impact. Like a fist hitting a boxing bag, you want to ‘punch’ the ball firmly with your foot for the best outcome. Impact should take place at the higher zone of the laces, with the lower third of the ball contacting your boot. This will minimise injury risk, improve kicking efficiency and create a quality sweet spot.
6. Follow through: Fully extend your leg in front of your body after impact for optimal power, naturally following the path of the football with toes pointing straight at target.
Common drop punt mistakes
Set up / Grip
- Failure to run straight (unless a curved kick is intended), causing leg to swing across body and interfering with proper kicking technique
- Inability to keep the football controlled and stabilised during the run up
- An incorrect or crooked grip inhibiting the football from spinning backwards effectively
- Two-handed ball drop or dropping the ball from too high up the leg
- Dropping the ball centred to your body rather than in line with the kicking leg, causing you incorrectly ‘hook’ the ball or lose track of it
- Putting too much force or hard effort behind the kick, causing a loss of balance and inability to time impact correctly
- Lowing the balance arm (non-guiding arm) at the impact stage, resulting in an unbalanced kick
- Kicking with an excessively upward pointed toe on impact rather than in the direction of the target, resulting in a kick that prioritises height over distance
- Failure to keep the foot solid and firm on impact, resulting in a sloppy, unstable kicking platform
- ‘Stabbing’ at the football rather than following through with the kick
How to identify an effective drop punt
Being aware of sensory cues will allow you to identify a correct impact, know when to adapt your technique and to learn how to consistently replicate effective kicks. Recognising this immediate sensory feedback is particularly valuable when performing solo AFL training drills to know when you’re on track.
After an effective impact, the football will spin backwards end over end quickly, creating distance and a consistent flight trajectory. Getting a feel for how to accomplish this through repetition is a good starting point, allowing you to replicate and identify it in future.
The kick shouldn’t feel like it required a hard effort to initiate. The sensation of the football on the boot will feel light and not cause substantial shock through the foot. You should feel targeted tension and stretch throughout your muscles during various stages of the kick, such as the thigh as the lower leg extends into the kicking action.
When the football has correctly contacted with the foot, you’ll be rewarded with a satisfying and crisp ‘thud’ sound.
Factors to consider
Everyone’s kicking technique and coaching methods are different, so it’s essential to find out what works for you.
Ball drop vs impact
Some coaches and footy elites emphasise the point of impact (how the football contacts the boot) as being the most critical step in performing an effective drop punt, and work from this point backwards to identify areas in need of improvement.
Other professional players believe that the influence of the ball drop (the transition of the ball between hand and boot) is underestimated in regard the quality of the kick and whether the sweet spot is successfully struck.
Guiding vs dropping the ball straight
Guiding the ball instead of simply dropping the ball can also affect the quality of the kick. Dropping the ball straight is a valuable starting point for beginners, but elite players may use a subtle roll of the wrist when guiding the ball to position it at the desired angle.
Although some players recommended dropping the ball from around thigh height, you may find greater success dropping the ball closer to the foot (e.g. only slightly above your knee) to improve your rate of accuracy and leave less room for error.
Curved run up vs straight run up
Curved run up versus straight run up is another area of debate – where a curved run up is believed to elevate foot speed prior to impact and ball speed following impact due to the greater hip leverage required.
On the other hand, a straight run up is debatably more precise and forgiving. Many elite players stick to straight run up when kicking distances of 30 - 40m and under. However, they may commit to the riskier, slightly curved run up to ‘open the hips’ in circumstances when it’s critical to gain distances approaching 60m.
The wrap up
Remember that this is a guideline on the fundamental mechanics of kicking and even among professional players, the nuances of a successful drop punt vary considerably between individuals. However, there are elements that remain consistent to the winning formula of AFL kicking such as effective leg acceleration and a firm foot at impact.
Practice is essential to master the standard drop punt as well as any deviations you choose to make the drop punt your own.
As sloppy habits tend to stick, prioritise quality practice to build up effective muscle memory throughout pre-season. This will allow you to kick with intention and instinct when playing under pressure on game-day.