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Beating the Odds

What Do Field-Goal Kickers Think About?

You can say with confidence that at least one of this weekend’s NFL playoff games will be decided by a field goal attempt that either is made or missed.

For instance, the Denver Broncos, who play the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, would not even be in the playoffs were it not for Matt Prater. He kicked field goals of 59 and 51 yards to help his team beat the Chicago Bears during the regular season. In his career, Prater is 28-for-29 in field goal attempts in the fourth quarter or overtime.

So what do kickers think about in the moments leading up to the attempt? Brendan Gibbons, who kicked a field goal to give Michigan an overtime victory over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, gave his answer.

“Brunette girls,” Gibbons said. Then he explained. “Every time we were like struggling in kicking, Coach (Brady Hoke) tells me to think about girls on a beach or brunette girls. So that’s what we did. Made the kick.”

Hoke gave great advice. Performance under pressure comes down to what you’re thinking about, or more exactly, what you’re not thinking about. Phrases like “Do or die,” or “It’s now or never” only add pressure.

The secret is to keep your mind off your mind, as a sports psychologist might say.

“I try not to overthink,” said the Broncos’ Prater. “In fact, I don’t think about anything.”

John Kasay, a longtime kicker in the NFL, once offered another explanation for missing a kick that would have given the Carolina Panthers a victory.

“I can say with absolute confidence that God did not want me to make that field goal,” Kasay was quoted as saying.

To which someone observed, “God does not care about football. God is a baseball fan.”

You see? It doesn’t pay for kickers to think.

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