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Flinders University researchers say answer to goalkicking yips could be all in players’ heads

Daniela Abbracciavento, June 4, 2020 6:45PM The Messenger

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Marcus Bontempelli of the Bulldogs after missing a set shot at goal during the Round 23 AFL match between the Richmond Tigers and the Western Bulldogs at the MCG in Melbourne, August 25, 2018. Picture: AAP media_cameraMarcus Bontempelli of the Bulldogs after missing a set shot at goal during the Round 23 AFL match between the Richmond Tigers and the Western Bulldogs at the MCG in Melbourne, August 25, 2018. Picture: AAP

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“It’s all in your head.”

They are words football fans often yell at their favourite players when they have the yips — a sudden and unexplained loss of skill — in front of goal.

And the supporters may be right, according to a study.

Goal kicking is at a historic low in the AFL with only 51 per cent of set shots going through the big sticks* last year.

Now in an Australian first, Flinders University researchers are studying if improving players’ thought processes during set shots is the key to beating those goalkicking woes*.

Flinders University senior lecturer in sport, health and physical activity Sam Elliot is leading the research.

As part of the study, senior and junior footballers were asked to verbalise* their thoughts during a set shot on goal and a player was kept on the mark to help create a competitive environment.

media_cameraAdam Treloar of the Magpies kicks a goal from a set shot during the Round 3 AFL match between the Carlton Blues and the Collingwood Magpies at the MCG in Melbourne, April 6, 2018. Picture: AAP

The research found adult players abandoned regular routines and thought processes as shots further than 40m out became harder to kick.

Many footballers were likely to focus on their goalkicking technique to improve accuracy but Dr Elliott said research was proving training the mind was just as important.

“In these self-paced moments, we would say that it’s (goal kicking) equally as much about the physical (processes) as it is about the cognitive*,” Dr Elliott said.

“We’re developing an association between an AFL players’ proficiency* in front of goal and the types of thought processes that will allow (them) to have increased success.”

He said understanding how the difficulty of a kick influences player thought patterns will help coaches know how to best train players to manage stress.

Supplied Editorial Fwd: goal kicking media_cameraDr Sam Elliott, senior lecturer in sport, health and physical activity at Flinders University, South Australia, is leading the study.

The study also found common thoughts players had while lining up for a set shot included self-doubt, mental readiness and reactive comments.

Flinders University women’s footballer Tahlia Ferreira said players needed help developing a mental routine for goal kicking, especially for set shots, to improve accuracy.

“I’ve never kicked a set-shot goal,” Ms Ferreira, 26, said.

“I think it’s purely because of the pressure.

“I’m constantly thinking ‘don’t shank it*’ so I’m much better running into goal because I don’t break down my technique, it just happens naturally.

“I think the easier the shot, there’s more of an expectation that you have to kick it and I think more emphasis should be placed on the mental aspect of footy.”

Goal Kicking media_cameraFlinders University footballer Tahlia Ferreira takes a shot at goal. Picture: Matt Loxton

Dr Elliott’s team is hoping to secure funding to take the research to the next step, focusing on the thoughts of professional footballers and top juniors when they line up for goal.

media_cameraLiam Ryan performs a cartwheel into a backflip after kicking a goal during an AFL West Coast Eagles Football Club training session in Perth on June 3, 2020. Picture: AAP

GLOSSARY

  • big sticks: slang for footy goalposts
  • woes: troubles
  • verbalise: speak out loud
  • cognitive: to do with thinking
  • proficiency: how good you are at something
  • shank it: to miss badly

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. Describe what the researchers are studying.
  2. What did the study ask players to do?
  3. Which subjects does Sam Elliott teach?
  4. What did adult players do once they were taking a shot more than 40m out?
  5. What sport does Tahlia Ferreira play and who for?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Think Positive
List at least five activities or ideas you think could help a player have more positive thoughts that help them to kick those goals. Then, think about five activities or ideas that could help you to have more positive thoughts that help you to do better at something that is difficult.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and Social Capability, Health and Physical Education

2. Extension
Do you agree that training a player’s mind is just as important as their footy skills? Write a paragraph answering this question. Give specific reasons and examples to make your answer convincing!

Time: allow at least 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and Social Capability, Health and Physical Education

VCOP ACTIVITY
Read with Penny Punctuation
Pair up with the article between you and stand up to make it easy to demonstrate your Kung Fu Punctuation.

Practice reading one sentence at a time. Now read it again, while acting out the punctuation as you read.

Read and act 3 sentences before swapping with your partner.

Have 2 turns each.

Now as a challenge ask your partner to read a sentence out loud while you try and act out the punctuation. Can you keep up?

Swap over?

Try acting out 2 sentences.

Are you laughing yet?

Have fun acting out your punctuation.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you think your mind affects how well you play sport?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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