Ben Moore took the Australian Football League Sydney Swans to 2nd-place in the league for set shot goal kicking accuracy during his six years as consulting coach. Ben’s holistic approach to practicing and improving accuracy, outlined in It’s More Than Your Foot, can be applied to any sport that involves contact and trajectory.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Ben’s unique perspective on rotating planes of movement
- His three step outline for more effective kicking or hitting
- Why Ben discourages cursing during practice
How Ben Moore Developed His Methods
Ben Moore: I grew up in England, although I got an Australian passport courtesy of my dad. I played sports growing up, did sport science at university, then dropped out of the sports field for a number of years, mainly because of debts from university. Worked in the city, got sick of that, and then ended up moving to Sydney, Australia to go back into the sports world doing a full-time Master’s at University of Sydney.
I managed to get in touch with the Premier Australian Rules Football Club in Sydney—the Sydney Swans. Then, I talked my way into a short-term consultancy contract, where I was to watch training for a number of weeks and come up with ideas for the coaches to implement in their training based on my background, both from playing sports like cricket in my youth and also sports science.
“I had watched about three games of Australian Football when I was very young. I didn’t know the rules beyond the need to kick it through the goal.”
Applying Rotation Theories to Kicking
Cricket looks very much like a two-planed activity, so up and down the pitch. You’re trying to get the bat to move in a straight line to hit the ball. Well, my view is that’s a totally incorrect way of doing it. You should look at it as a rotatory of activity, around the location of the hit, lifting the arms and the shoulders, all controlling that rotation.
Likewise, kicking, from what I heard in the first few weeks of listening and watching training. Particularly, kicking for goal was approached as a two-planed activity, as if the kicking leg was the main torque, and you must swing as straight as possible, striking the ball down as straight as possible in line with the kicking leg so that everything moved straight.
Well, in actuality, you know that the hips rotate, the upper body rotates, and the shoulders rotate during the kicking process. So, I had to come up with ideas for the coaches based on looking at it from that perspective rather than just straight up and down.
Charlie Hoehn: Were you the only one doing this in the league?
Ben Moore: There may be one other person at another one of the clubs, but as far as I’m aware it was unique. There was no defined role for me within the coaching team or within the sports science team. Paul Roos was the head coach there at the time, and he was very open-minded in terms of trying to get as many ideas as possible from anyone within background in order to improve his team.
That was pretty much it.
I’d come from a skills background in the sense that my sport science undergraduate and postgraduate degrees were around the science of learning from the perspective of motor skills and cognitive skills. I knew about hitting a ball, kicking a ball, cognitive skills in decision making, and had a background playing and coaching in other sports.
The idea was that I could use those skills to help him and the team of coaches and players get better.
Charlie Hoehn: Tell us about the first big idea that made a noticeable impact.
Ben Moore: After speaking to the coaches and the players, there were some tips and pointers that everyone seemed to use in helping them get better at the process of kicking.
“Kicking a ball is quite a complex activity.”
You’re dropping an oval ball onto the convex shape of your foot. The players didn’t seem to have a guiding set of overarching principles or a process around a kicking program. It was a little tip here, a little tip here, “You might try this, you might try that.”
My perspective of coming from coaching batting in cricket was that jumping around from tip to tip doesn’t work in the long run.
You have to have the structure to figure out process as well as to practice discipline.
Charlie Hoehn: What do you want football players to take away from your book?
Ben Moore: There is not an ideal technique that applies or an ideal of movement of pattern that applies to every single player, but there are a series of principles that can be used by any player—or any coach with any player—over a period of weeks, and months, and years, which can help each individual player improve their own style of kicking.
Everyone is going to look slightly different based on how tall they are and how fit they are.
“There are a series of principles that can be applied to every player.”
The book covers the physical process of kicking, aiding, performance, and improving performance, as well as a series of practice disciplines that assist players and coaches with the learning process and feedback on the learning process.
Ben Moore’s Technique for Better Contact
Charlie Hoehn: What are some of the principles that you lay out in the book?
Ben Moore: It starts with the physical method of kicking the football. If you watch an Australian Rules Football player or Rugby League player or any player kicking a ball, there is an approach before you reach the ball and impact the ball with your foot.
I’ve broken the coaching that I did into three principles, M.A.F.:
The momentum is created by a player or an individual kick, either by running up really fast or by using massive hip rotation if you’re kicking off one step.
So, if you were kicking a ball as far as you could, you might run 15 meters and try to transfer that speed into the ball, or you could do it off one step and a huge amount of hip rotation—twist your body around to create that momentum.
Obviously, there is a blend somewhere between the two extremes of running fast and extreme hip rotation. You could obviously have a blend of the two—kicking off two or three steps and using something in between on each of those extremes. That’s momentum.
Then you’ve got alignment. It’s important that the player is aware of their hips and shoulder alignment at the point of impact with the ball. The ball is dropped out from the hand on to the foot, so alignment allows the ball to travel in a particular direction.
Now, coaches tend to talk a lot about running up straight towards the target, with the kicking leg lined straight up and down and following through straight to the target.
“It’s quite acceptable to kick using a more curved approach or a curved run up.”
An Australian Football player will cut—called kicking it across the body—where you’re not aligned with your target.
Traditionally they talk about running up straight, in inverted commas, at the goal or the other player that they’re trying to kick to, keeping everything lined up. They drop the ball straight down in line with the kicking leg, swing the kicking leg through reasonably straight, then follow through to the kick to the top after the impact straight again.
However, you’ll see that most players—because of the dynamics of the game and in particular when they’re kicking from further out—don’t kick with everything lined up at the target.
“Alignment doesn’t mean running straight at the target and following through straight to the target.”
It means the player is aware of the relative hip and shoulder alignment at the point of impact that allows the ball to travel in a particular direction. And, very importantly, they need to maintain that alignment in a split second before and after impact, i.e. create a stable platform on the non-kicking leg.
Follow through is about maintaining physical form in the split seconds after a kick, but it’s also remaining mentally engaged in the kicking process rather than just switching off at the point of impact.
If you’re kicking for goal, you kick, and then just right after impact you mentally switch to look at where the ball is going towards goal. It may not greatly impact the actual physical outcome of a kick, but from a mental perspective it’s a practice tool for improvement and feedback as well as being a part of the physical process.
“It’s maintaining a physical follow through as well as a mental follow through past the point of impact.”
The player needs to keep the momentum going through the kick after impact, but also needs to be switched on in order to be aware of all the feedback that they’re getting. Not just where the ball is going but how they feel their body is moving after the impact, how the kick felt before. You won’t be able to verbalize all of that, but being aware of the follow through process greatly assists in the feedback that the player gets.
A player can do this by continuing to run after to the impact, or if you’re just kicking off one step you can keep bouncing on that non-kicking leg. But the important thing is to wrap your mind into the follow through and keep the force moving forward in the direction of the ball.
The momentum, alignment, and follow through create a physical process aiding performance. It’s a physical and mental discipline that aids the learning process and feedback for all—the players, obviously, and coaches.
Practice is More than the Physical
Charlie Hoehn: What do we need to know from the mental component of practicing?
Ben Moore: I’m not a sports psychologist, but I think there’s a mindset or a series of mental processes that greatly assist a player who is trying to learn a skilled activity such as kicking a football.
It can apply to also hitting a ball in baseball or a cricket ball or even a golf ball. There are some relatively simple mental disciplines to adopt, and I outline those in the book.
“In practice, you’ve got to accept that mistakes are going to happen.”
It’s a fundamental part of learning anything, whether you’re learning to write, whether you’re learning to kick a football, whether you’re learning to drive a car—in most of those activities, like a child learning to write or a child learning to walk, you accept mistakes.
But in Australian Football, and particularly the elite level, if a mistake gets made during practice, I noticed a tendency for a player to do a lot of swearing at themselves. They’d make it known to everyone else that they’re upset about having made the mistake.
Now, obviously there are times when you are going to get upset. But I think it’s a critical discipline in practice, particularly in the off season when you’re trying to improve the activity that you’re focused on.
“Do not swear at yourself and do not laugh at another player.”
We have just got to accept that’s going to happen if you’re pushing the current boundaries of your performance level.
If you watch practices—particularly a junior level—in any sport, anywhere in the world, I can guarantee there will be people swearing themselves hoarse after missing a kick or hitting a ball incorrectly or whatever.
The coaches need to make sure the players don’t do it, and the players need to discipline themselves. Effectively, you’re trying to detach yourself from the short-term performance because that greatly improves the odds that you’ll be able to obtain useful physical feedback from the overall process, like we just talked about in kicking.
And I think the opposite also applies: There is no point in just going through practice and patting yourself on the back for doing something successfully the whole way. It’s generally removing your attachment to the outcome during practice.
Success Stories from Ben Moore’s Method
Charlie Hoehn: What kind of testimonials have players had about the principles in this book working for them and changing their game?
Ben Moore: There was an excellent player who could already kick very, very well. He was one of these the senior goal kickers, but he had a few down years, kicking probably about 10% lower than someone of his level.
He really bought into the ideas and practiced over the entire preseason. His accuracy the following season jumped to 73%—that was the most successful he’d been in his entire career up to that point, which was a 13-year career.
He viewed it as a relatively simple process with some layers underneath. That helped him explain some of the complexities of the kick. All he’d ever done in learning to kick growing up when he had some problems kicking was drop the ball down straight out of the hand on to the foot.
That sounds quite simple, but it’s incredibly difficult to drop a ball, as you’re running, straight down so that it meets the foot with the ball pointing upwards.
“The ball drop and the impact lies right in the middle of that movement, alignment, follow through process.”
He found that creating the overall process helped him to do the middle act—dropping the ball and getting the contact on the foot.
Over the years, there have been quite a few of those. Individual players who are struggling with in inverted commas or wanted to improve their kicking have done so.
Towards the end of my time at the Swans, another player came from another club. This guy was responsible for kicking goals for the team and under pressure to convert those goals three, four, five times a game.
The only thing that he had been told about was these kicks was the feedback that I mentioned earlier about remaining straight or upright or having the leg swing through straight and follow through straight.
Now, that may sound simple if you watch a player kicking a ball in Australian Football. That does seem like reasonable advice. However, it restricts the natural rotations of the body that are occurring, particularly in the hips. It also restricts the player in terms of the force and momentum that they can get into the kick.
This gave him the license to be slightly more relaxed about the rotation of the hip, not being so singularly focused on remaining straight up and down. His kicking accuracy conversion after that was the highest in his career.
Basic Kicking Techniques You Can Apply Today
Charlie Hoehn: What do you want readers to walk away with?
Restricting one element will restrict other elements of the kick, which then lose the impacts and the feedback from the coaches or the player who’s seeing it incorrectly.
“Kicking is a whole body activity.”
When you go to drop the ball, the temptation is to think, “Okay, I was going to try and drop it as close to my body or as low down as possible.” Trying to restrict one element to optimize another is a dead end track.
The whole body has activity: upper and lower body but also the non-kicking side and kicking side.
Charlie Hoehn: What is one thing from your book that players can do this week that will improve their kicking ability?
At the most simple level, do a single practice based on the physical process I’ve outlined.
Follow through, meaning finish the kick. Every kick you do in the next practice, finish the kick. That could apply to hitting a baseball or hitting a cricket ball. Take the physical process and your mental connection with that physical process through to the end, every single time you hit or kick the ball.
That might sound simple to do, but it’s the best thing to work on. Start with a single practice based on finishing the kick or the hit.
“Work backward from the end.”
So the follow through, the alignment, the momentum. And obviously at the end of the follow through you’ve got to finish.
Charlie: How can our listeners connect with you?
Ben: You can look me up on LinkedIn or email me at [email protected].
Seinfeldia: Jennifer Armstrong