Ineffective steps can cause various issues throughout the entire punt. Examples of this could be swinging around the ball rather than up through it, or massive loss of power. Steps are often a quick fix, however the habit is tough to break. So we wanted to cover this topic, just as all the others and break bad habits early!
The Dance Step
I included a video of one of our trainees, Brian Buschini from University of Montana as he provides a great example of what we call the dance step or shuffle. Obviously he is just kicking out of hand, but as he tosses the ball to himself watch his feet, he includes a small shuffle then into his second step, and plant step. This shuffle is very important because it can speed up operation time significantly. It should occur as the snap is coming to you, as a way of getting the operation moving early. It also allows you to quickly move into your second and plant steps rather than waiting until you have the ball to start, potentially causing blocked punts.
Walking The Tightrope
This is by far the most common issue we see with punt steps. I struggled with this myself, but basically it's walking one foot over the other just as you would on a tightrope. I tell the guys I work with, "just walk like you are at school." This concept takes some pressure off the steps as it changes your thought process. Just some normal steps shoulder width apart down the hallway at school. The issue with the tightrope steps is that it opens up your hips instead of keeping them square to your target causing you to have to swing your kicking leg around from behind your plant leg, rather than swinging straight up through the football. If you are a right footed punter who's punts often fall to the left or opposite for a lefty, this may be part of the issue. So as I mentioned to help with this, just work on talking normal walking steps through your punt operation with and without the ball until it becomes muscle memory and your hips can stay square through the target.
Approaching Towards Your Target
This is another common error we see in young punters, not aiming their steps towards their target. Usually when we begin punting, I'll have the athlete punt directly down the middle to gauge this very thing. More often than not, I will see them start stepping to their dominant leg side and then trying to correct back to the middle. This will naturally cause you to have to swing around the ball rather than up through it, preventing you from getting the best hang time and distance possible. So again, toss the ball up to yourself or as you catch the snap incorporate the dance step, and approach towards your target line. In the video above you can see Brian approaching right through his target line.
The final item I wanted to touch on is the size of steps that should be taken. We often see young punters taking very large steps thinking they need to ramp up and give it their all. Taking these very big steps actually hurts you in the long run, decreasing power you could drive into the football because it is being used to create big steps. Once again, back to the concept of "walking at school" your steps should be balanced and comfortable, not too small and not too big. Your goal should be to have the ball gone in 3-3.5 yards giving you space to get the ball off and your protection room to take on blocks and not have to worry about getting back into your area.
These tips will help you become a more consistent and effective punter if used correctly! Take these and work through them one step at a time, pun intended. Excited to see some more moonshots!