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By Sam Watts, Kicking and Punting Coach, Owner of Sam Watts Kicking, Phoenix (AZ)

Coach Watts has been coaching specialists for over 30 years. He has trained athletes who play in professional leagues, including National Football League, Canadian Football League, and Arena Football League. Find out what he says are the keys to a consistent XP/FG Unit. Read more here...


By Sam Watts           
Kicking and Punting Coach
Owner of Sam Watts Kicking
Phoenix (AZ)
Twitter: @samwattskicking

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As a consultant and kicking coach, I have found common mistakes coaches teach when developing field goal units. We will discuss in detail how a holder, snapper and a kicker can become better individually while on their way to becoming an efficient field goal unit.

Missed extra points in the NFL increased last year when they moved the distance of 20 yards to 33 yards, resulting in the most missed extra points since 1972. The operation time (snap to kick) in the NFL is between 1.20-1.25. College specialist’s times range from 1.25-1.35. High schoolers time can range between 1.35-1.45. Coaches at the highest levels record every kick, snap and hold of their field goal operation.

Unit Responsibilities

Let’s start with who has what responsibilities in our unit and why.

Snapper: The snapper is to address the ball in his stance, and the stance sets the alignment for his fellow linemen. In video clip #1, watch how the snapper waits for the kicker to move sideways before he grips the ball. This allows for him to not be over the ball for too long.

The holder needs to be a part of locating in order to spot for the ball placement. His next responsibility is to count the other 9 teammates and ensure everyone is in their proper place before he starts his cadence. These may seem like a basic concept, and it is, but the holder is the “QB” of this unit. Recently, I was at a client's practice and watched their kicker start counting his teammates as they ran onto the field, before starting his footwork.  A kicker is wasting time and losing focus, which could possibly lead to a missed kick or delay of game penalty. Everyone must know their role and responsibilities in a unit to be confident in each other.

The kicker needs to locate the spot with his holder and then start to begin his “step-up” footwork. While going backwards from his spot, the kicker needs to locate his target, paying close attention to the flags on top of the uprights for the direction of the wind. Once he is done with his set-up, he should take a moment to gather himself and relocate his spot. Once he has settled in and is ready to go, he will nod to the holder to confirm he is ready.

You might say, “Why all the little details about each position?” Setting up a field goal units’ timing is no different than the time we give our quarterback to align his offense. Our QB has to allow time for his center to set the blocking scheme. While that is happening, our QB then needs to look over the defense and then take a quick look out to his receivers for a pre-snap non-communicating glance.

A field goal unit that has precision timing with properly instilled responsibilities builds CHEMISTRY, and that intangible is everything in football. We, as coaches, need to build a confident group of specialists, first individually, and then assemble them as a unit. I suggest hiring a special teams consultant to help provide a set of drills for each position. Also ask that they provide a routine for off-season as well as in-season practices to assure your athletes are getting the proper amount of reps as specialists while avoiding mid-season burnout and injuries.

A KEY coaching point: The backhand. As seen in video clip #2, the backhand, or fingers on the ground, is key for the success of the unit. When a kicking block is NOT used, the holders hand contact with the ground is the point of reference for the snapper and kicker. Let’s be aware that college and professional holders are taught to keep their back hand on the ground until the ball is snapped.

Side note: specialist camps are awesome for individuals to improve their skill, but most camps are based on producing stats for colleges, not informing specialists on how to be part of a unit.

Videos 2 Through 14…

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  • What the kicker should watch to trigger him to start his motion toward the ball.
  • The proper time for a high school kicking operation.
  • Which is the proper hand to hold the ball and the proper tilt to use as the place holder.
  • Which knee should be down as the place holder.

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Coaches, we often ask our field goal units to produce after only very little coaching. I suggest that coaches break down and evaluate each part of the unit into their individual positions. Try and take a “let’s look at the film” approach before we assign blame squarely on the kicker when a kick is missed, blocked or a slow operation time is produced. Today’s technology allows us to assist our specialists to better understand their role by recording each rep, and that in return allows us to direct our specialists to take more ownership of their skill.

Meet Coach Sam Watts:

Coach Watts has been coaching specialists for over 30 years. He has trained athletes who play in professional leagues, including National Football League, Canadian Football League, and Arena Football League. He has also coached specialists who have earned All-American Honors in college and high school. Coach Watts has been a special teams consultant for the past 18 years and has helped produce results on all levels in the collegiate divisions and helped win many state titles in high school. In 2015, his NFL client, Jake Schum, set a franchise record with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the fewest return yards by a punter - 5.2 yards per return.   



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