Growing up, NFL placekicker Jeff Reed never had aspirations to play professional football. He didn’t even attempt a field goal until his senior year of high school. Yet Reed became one of the most consistent kickers in the league and the second-highest scorer in Pittsburgh Steeler history. How did this happen?
“I started playing soccer when I was five years old,” Reed says. “At 18, when I finally got over the fear factor of being hit and tried out for football, soccer had conditioned and trained my muscles for the repetitions and quick-leg speed required for kicking a football.”
In his first and only season on the gridiron at East Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte, N.C., Reed hit a 54-yard field goal, a school record and the second-longest in North Carolina history. His performance in that one year garnered him All-Conference and All-County honors—and led to a roster spot on the University of North Carolina football team.
Reed credits soccer not only for helping him develop the muscle strength needed to be an NFL placekicker, but also for developing his kicking form.
If you've ever closely watched an NFL kicker approach the ball, you've probably noted how he angles in from the side like a soccer player. This is because a soccer-style approach allows the entire instep of the cleat to make contact with the ball. A greater contact area gives the kicker more control over the ball's flight path and facilitates more powerful kicks.
With a straight-on approach, all the power comes from the kicking leg; but with a soccer style kick, the hips rotate, creating more foot velocity. That's why the placekicking technique known as soccer-style kicking is the one most commonly used in college football and the NFL. It’s also the reason why the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens' kicking consultant Randy Brown advises anyone dreaming of fame and fortune as an NFL kicker to get out on the pitch.
"There’s so much a kicker can benefit from playing soccer,” Brown says, "It’s tremendously helpful with the overall make-up of your body and critical to the development of swing motions."
Of the professional kickers Brown has coached, all of his most explosive, consistent ones played soccer. "In the National Football League, kickers become an asset when they are consistent, and this happens through repetition," he says. "As silly as it sounds, kickers and punters need to kick and punt. I tell all my guys 'just go kick.' The more you do it, the better you are going to become. Even if it's in a noncompetitive setting and you're just with your buddies, just swing your leg. It's the best advice I can give."
Unfortunately, in some areas of the country, football and soccer are played during the same school season. If this is the case for you, don't feel like you missed the boat. You can still reap the benefits by playing soccer in a spring recreational league.