Panthers’ rookie Joey Slye has made 19 field goals in 2019.
He hasn’t missed from between 30-39 yards. He’s made six kicks from beyond 50 yards, tying him with Graham Gano for the most 50+ makes in a single Panthers’ season. After last Sunday’s 34-31 loss to division rival New Orleans, however, he may be out of a job.
Slye missed two extra points and a field goal with two minutes left, all wide to the right. The Panthers lost by three to the Saints, an outcome that essentially ended the team’s playoff hopes. Slye confessed he “felt terrible” about the result, and while teammates were supportive of the rookie, the Panthers announced on Monday that they’ll be holding kicking tryouts – a sign the team’s coaching staff doesn’t have much patience for his struggles.
What could Slye have done differently? And is there anything he can do to recover? We asked Donovan Martin of Ft. Wayne, Ind.-based Traction Athletic Performance what he would recommend to a placekicker struggling with in-game anxiety.
Here’s how kickers can maintain focus, enter the zone, and nail kicks.
- Don’t focus on results
Kicking is as much about regulating anxiety as it is about nailing mechanics. If you focus on the results, your head will start spinning with the gravity of the situation and your anxiety will throw your mechanics for a loop. It’s like rock climbing or walking a high wire; you don’t look down and you don’t think about what will happen if you make a mistake. You focus on the next step or the hold in front of you.
Envision a perfectly executed process and control what you can control.
- Don’t overanalyze
Slye’s mind was on his mechanics after the game. “If I’m pushing right, it usually means I’m planting too deep,” Slye said, according to the Panthers’ official website. “My heel was past the ball, that’s going to leave my hips open to miss right.”
He’s right, but the knowledge didn’t help. Actually, Slye was probably too worried about mechanics when he lined up for that final field goal.
You drill mechanics every day. Trust them. Fixing them in-game is nearly impossible because it introduces thinking into a process that should be automatic, leaving room for doubt and anxiety. Envision nailing the process. Don’t pick apart your mechanics.
- Know how to enter ‘the zone’
The best way to regulate the zone is through routine.
Like golfers or free-throw shooters, kickers need to make what they do repeatable. You should have a sequence of events leading up to the kick that allows you to lock in. And you need to have the focus to not let that routine be disturbed by any distractions –- even a previous missed kick.
Entering the zone can also be facilitated by practicing mindfulness or meditation. These practices can help to mitigate distractions (something kickers must excel at), allowing your unconscious mind to regulate the kick.
- Mental training helps
As Slye revealed on Sunday, performing under pressure is difficult. Mental toughness is a necessity. For Slye (and maybe for you), the good news is that it can be improved.
Donovan Martin can teach you how to practice and apply the focus required to set up a sequence, turn off the anxiety and doubt, and enter the zone to confidently execute every kick with peak performance.