What is Response to Instruction/Intervention (RTII) for Kickers and Punters – and why it may be the most important instruction you will need to know!

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Those of you who are familiar with the old Holiday Inn commercial where a guy shows up to perform brain surgery and announces… Hey, I stayed at The Holiday Inn last night – so he of course is not only rested but can all of a sudden perform “brain surgery” over the surgeon who has spent many years in performing these types of operations… might know where I am going with this as it relates to responding and instructing and intervening when we work with young football kickers and punters.

As many of you know who read my blogs I have been coaching kickers and punters since 1980 (yep – and still at it) but what you may not know is in one of my old corporate jobs, I spent many years in the software education business (K-12) while coaching kickers/punters, and my focus was on implementing Response To Intervention (RTI) and Individual Education Plans (IEPs) software in the general education and exceptional children groups of school districts. Some states have mandated an RTI “tiered process” (which I will address shortly) while every state has an IEP “compliance plan” specific to them so they can report on (since its tied back to real dollars to the district). As kicking specialists, parents and coaches of kickers know, the “real dollars” we are trying to obtain are for our kids are in the football scholarship offers and professional contracts.

What I quickly gleaned from this educational experience was that “students and teachers” and ultimately “kickers/punters and coaches” all are part of a tiered approach of how they “learn” and teach/coach in the classroom (in our case the football field is our classroom).

Learning and teaching take on several different “tiered approaches” and I have always stated there is no “cookie cutter approach” on how I train kids because all of them have different characteristics (height, weight, build, memory muscles, etc., that have been defined (or need to be REDEFINED), and all learn at different times/levels. Each kicker/punter should be placed in a 4 Tiered Plan of a “Response to Instruction/Intervention for Kickers and Punters Instruction/Intervention (RTKPII) plan that is like an inverted pyramid approach and here’s why.

Tier 1– Probably between 75-90 per cent of young kickers (and parents/coaches) start out in this tier. The kicker might be someone who has been kicking for a year or two and has some basic understanding of the “general techniques” of kicking/striking (and no, power is NOT a technique) a football.

They might have had some “instruction” by “Coach HI” (Holiday Inn) who purchased a kicking book or video while staying at The Holiday Inn -or maybe an older teammate who “shows them the ropes” (somewhat dangerous), but generally likes the position of being a kicker and all that it brings with it.

From a special team’s coaching standpoint, some of these high school coaches (and some would argue college) fall into this category. So to assess what tier the coach falls into, one of the first questions I ask a kicker is.. “Who currently trains you?” This helps me evaluate the level of instruction I may need to do for the kicker and my “response” on how to intervene on what he has learned so far; then develop and implement and “test” a kicking solution over a short period of time (3-4 weeks/lessons) to see where they are (kicking/punting “charting” lessons). Finally, before I see how serious a kicker is, it is important that they (as well as the current coach and the parents) are part of what I call Kicker Problem Solving Teams (KPST) who is focused on ensuring the overall success of the kicker both on and off the football field and moves to Tier 2.

Tier 2 – These kickers are usually the top 10-15 per cent of the kickers who are now in the end of their HS Freshman year, and are attending some of the more bigger name camps (Jamie Kohl, Chris Sailer, Ray Guy, Mike McCabe and others) and have been getting some ranking/stars associated with others in the same high school year, and are starting to be on the “radar”. These kids are now starting to target what they want to do as a “specialist” (combo kicker, kicker only or punter only) if they want to play at a D1 college level program.

Tier 2 kickers should be able to chart themselves (a simple notebook can do) on a weekly basis to see where they are in kick-offs, field goals and PAT’s and from various places and distances from the field (this also includes charting with and against the wind) and have a somewhat consistent kicking step and format that works for them. Tier 2 punters should be able to hit consistent punts in the 38 and 3.8 distance and hang-time, be able to have a consistent “drop-table” and step motion, and be able to “turn the ball over consistently.

They might have signed up with NCSA to start the recruiting process, use a local video company that can help or have registered with the NCAA Eligibility Center ($65.00 to join – and is also a great reference point for parents). Tier 2 kickers might have some YouTube Highlight “moments” but I can tell you college coaches do NOT look at these to assess where you are!

Tier 2 kicking specialists are now more serious about playing one sport in the FALL – and not wrapped up in trying to be the next All-American in two sports in the same season. Case in point: Ask all the Tier 4 scholarship kickers when you are at a competition camp or at a college showcase how many of them played two sports in the SAME season, and if so, what year did they stop playing and concentrating on one or the other? Yes, Mom and Dad, there are the rare exceptions – and maybe your son is that one – but you have to ask yourself, what sport is Karl the Kicker or Paul the Punter going to be trying to obtain a scholarship in?

A Tier 2 special teams coach is someone that has actually trained and helped obtain a scholarship for a current or former kicker and was at some point in his career actually been a kicker/punter (and no it does not count if the coach “bunked” with the kicker/punter when they were together in college – it does not work like that). They can spot some of the basics and can instruct on some short term kicking remediation and start to formulate a plan with the kicker and his snapper and holder (Example: where does the punter like the ball to be set to by the snapper, or how does the kicker like to have the hold placed on the ground…) Lastly, they can also be able to speak to a College Special Teams coach about the kicking specialists he is working with to start the process – but as we know, to obtain the scholarship, it’s really going to depend on Tier 3-4 kickers, and their Tier 3-4 coaches!

Tier 3 – These kickers/punters are in the Top 5 percent and are headed for either a D1 college offer (or if currently in college are invited to a “State Pro” camp upon college graduation). They are intense and passionate about not only their kicking routines, but also their strength and conditioning, knowing this is going to make them better, and perform at the showcases and National camp and College exposure camps (and finally receiving a scholarship/professional offer). Their kick-offs are almost flawless as they sail into and out of the end zone, while being able to make 45-50 yard field goals from various hash marks and under pressure when it counts, and usually either off the ground or with a one inch or shaved down block. Punters are now averaging in the mid to high 40’s with average hang times in the 4.3 to 4.5’s, and have the ability to place “directional punts” down inside the opposing 10 yard line with great accuracy.

They have a great relationship with some of my coaching “brethren” I have come to know and respect (Jamie Kohl, Chris Sailer, Mike McCabe or regional based ex-college/professional kicker they work with) as well as and knowing the special teams coaches at the top 10 colleges they want to attend, that also have the Education major they want to study when they are finished with college.

They are also highly ranked by these National coaches and have the grades and SAT/ACT scores to back it up.

The one down side is that they might still have to clean-up their Facebook and other social media accounts – how they write on their “wall” and how they leave messages on their cell phone voice mail.. (Hint.. having your voice mail message start with.. “Yo what’s up? I am not here now because I am chillin with my bros” may not be the impression a college coach wants to hear) but for the most part are headed to the “next level” and you are on your way!

Tier 3 coaches are proven kicking and punting instructors who also know how to do a proper film/video analysis and see the small areas of need for improvement. They have kicked at our level; provided a great “Intervention/Instruction Plan” and are more targeted on the “behavioral” side of kicking – what to expect from kicking in front of a couple hundred people to maybe 100,000 people – or understanding the increased training as kickers they will need to know about when they get to college.

Tier 4 – These kickers/punters are in the Top 1 percent of their class, have been to multiple kicking competitions (probably won a few – and even played in one of the All-American games on TV) and knowing the recruiting game when it comes to being able to be in the college coaches eyes as “the whole package when they are offered”.

They also realize that at this level, they are now going to be playing on a National stage in front of maybe 85-100,000 people each week. They take this kicking “craft” very seriously and also are the first ones to Thank Mom and Dad for all the time invested (if they have not , shame on them), and also know that in a short period of time of their college experience they will be trading in their football helmet and uniform, for a college graduation cap and gown. If lucky to play professionally – the next set of Tiers of instruction and training become more intense, and if not, at least the different Tiers 1-4 in football instruction will have helped help them get ready for the Tiered Instruction and training in the game of life!

Tier 4 coaches are the ones who have come to know each of the kickers/punters they have worked with, and ask a Tier 4 kicking specialists to attend one of the coaches National camps where they can highlight just how far the Tier I kicker was a just a few short years ago, and where they are today, or after college can become part of a coaches staff at the HS level (Community Coaching) or joining them when local kicking competition camps are held locally!

Finally, Tier 4 coaches- should be the ones (next to Mom and Dad) who get the passes to sit in the “parents of players” section on a Saturday to watch – and humbly take a few short pats on the back- or at least be at the college graduation ceremony!

Until next blog – Coach Nolan

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