We hear the term “in the zone” tossed around a lot to describe the feeling an athlete gets when they feel unbeatable. You can see it happen too; it just sort of develops as the game progresses. A true great like a Tom Brady seems to get into that “zone” and stay there; something I imagine is very hard to do in a pressure-packed game. It’s not just the quarterbacks or the stars that go into their zone though, it’s all athletes actually. Each player is out there the whole game (whether they are in the game or on the sideline is irrelevant), maintaining their focus and trying to not to think about the moment. A position where a lack of (let's call it) a “zone-state” seems apparent is for the kicker. I say this, because think about the nature of a kicker’s duties, and what his role on the team is.
The kicker is not someone who gets glory, they are often not even considered football players ( a claim I think is ludicrous) and at times it looks like they're playing their own game; one separate from the one all the other players are involved in. Next time you’re watching a game look at what the kicker does on the sidelines. Most times they attempt to stay ready by taking practice kicks or stretching their legs with a resistance band, anything to keep their mind off the pressure. He knows that he will have his one moment and then the waiting will begin again.
Sometimes the man will be called on to come out for one kick, essentially his first play of the game, and make that kick. It’s almost assumed that the offensive unit is entitled to those three points for the work they did, almost with disregard to the skill and focus it takes to execute the field goal. The kicker doesn’t get to ease himself into the game because every play he’s involved in is so black and white in nature; meaning either he makes the kick or he misses it, it’s not like a running back who can run the ball and lose a yard then run again the next play for a touchdown and have done his job well. If a kicker comes in and makes 2 out of 3 attempts on the day, we'll be here asking why he missed one.
There’s really no gray area for the position in terms of your performance making it very stressful I’d imagine. If you recall the field goal Billy Cundiff missed against the Steelers in this year’s Playoffs, it was crazy to watch how the broadcast team portrayed the man as a villain. Cundiff was said to have let down veterans like Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, which is quite an accusation. It just further proves the adage, kickers are taken for granted and are not given the proper amount of credit. Although Cundiff probably would’ve wanted that one back, that’s not how it works. I’m sure he’ll think about that kick for a long time, much longer than anyone else involved in that game.
Every time he’s sitting on the sideline waiting he’ll be recalling that miss. I’ve even seen misses like that rattle a guy forever; the prime example being Mike Vanderjagt of the Indianapolis Colts. In 2005 Vanderjagt missed a crucial 46-yard field goal against the Pittsburgh Steelers that cost the Colts their season. Vanderjagt was never the same after that, a guy who made 90+ percent of his kicks was now suddenly rattled. He was pulling everything wide right and he never got over it. Vanderjagt lost his confidence sure, but more importantly he lost his composure. He could never find that zone again where he was the best kicker in the NFL; it simply didn’t exist anymore. Kicking is truly a game of the mind; when you lose your focus you’ve lost the battle.