By Coach Nick Fleming
At the very beginning of kicking, even before you actually swing your leg, there are a few things you need to think about before lacing up your cleats to give kicking a try for the first time. When you choosing your equipment, a few things are obvious; you need a ball, you need some cleats, but what about those kicking tees that are different sizes? Here are some important things to consider when choosing the correct tee for you.
When thinking about kicking tees, it’s important to remember one really solid piece of advice, and that is “higher tees and blocks do not automatically mean more distance.” In fact, distance is more directly related to a kicker’s mechanics and natural power of their swing. The main thing a kicker should consider when choosing a tee is “how easily can I get the ball up over the line of scrimmage so the defense cannot block the kick?”
Kicking tees and blocks are made to give the kicker an easier time to get underneath the ball and get it up in the air. Beyond the high school level, if all kickers were forced to kick off the ground, you would see a lot of blocked kicks because getting the ball up 10 feet in the air in 7 yards or less is quite difficult to achieve with pure mechanics. Using a tee leaves a little room for error when trying to hit the sweet spot. The mechanics related to kicking with a tee or block are relatively simple, the higher the ball is off the ground, the more your foot should make contact with the ball when your leg is on the upswing. When a kicker makes contact with the ball when their leg is on the upswing, it is much easier to get the ball up in the air because the leg is at a better angle when contact occurs and popping it up in the air is easier to do. For those who are already deep into the mechanics of kicking, remember that your plant spot should move back (away from the uprights) as the tee gets higher so that it is easier to achieve contact on the upward portion of the swing.
So, how does a first time kicker know if they want to use a 1/2”, 1”, or 2” tee or block? The best way to find an answer is through trial and error. Each beginner has different form, so they should find the tee or block that gives them the most success right away and then work from there. My general rule of thumb is if you haven't played soccer or are one of your team’s better athletes, start with the 2” tee as that is usually easier for the “non-soccer” athletes to be successful (esp. toe kickers). However, if you have played soccer your whole life and the soccer swing is already refined, try the 1/2” or 1” as that might be an easier transition with the swing you already have.
One question I always seem to get is regarding when to kick field goals off the ground. I tell all of my students that if you are dead set on kicking in college, you should be practicing off the ground during the offseason from freshman year on. For some students, the transition from a block to the ground is a long and hard road, so get a head start on making sure you’re ready when it’s time to impress a college coach. However, I would recommend for high school kickers to use a block during the season. Even if you’re more comfortable kicking off the ground, chances are good that your high school holder is not skilled enough to place the ball perfectly every time, so give yourself the extra breathing room that comes with using a block whenever you have the option.
For kickoff tees, use the same height tee that you are comfortably with using for field goals. By using the same tee, you don’t need to become comfortable having two different swings (an inch higher or lower than the other). Kicking is all about making your swings as consistent as possible and each inch and degree of angle matters, so don’t make it harder on yourself by needing to create a kickoff swing an inch higher than your field goal swing.