The AFL drop punt is widely recognized as the preferred AFL kick.
The ball is dropped from the player’s hand onto their foot, where it spins off the boot through the air.
The backspin is vital to the process and is one of the first things players are taught when learning this key kick.
But, why does a drop punt spin backwards? We take a dive into the biomechanics of the kick and some of the other, well-known kicks in AFL.
What are the biomechanics of a drop punt?
When we bring biomechanics into the equation, we can look at the exact reason a drop punt kick spins backwards.
One of the main reasons this punt is so popular in AFL is thanks to the Magnus Effect. This increases the time the ball is in flight, which gives teammates more time to get in place and mark.
There are many different biomechanical principles at each stage of the execution of a drop punt. It requires all the limbs of the body, with a sequence of events that has to take place for the skill to be executed correctly:
1) Newton’s law
Newton’s 2nd Law states that Force = Mass multiplied by acceleration. This means that the greater the acceleration of the foot making a connection with the ball, the greater the speed of the ball.
2) Run up
This stage is important for gathering momentum and balance. This is why carrying out a drop punt from a standing position is much harder than using a run-up, as the shifting of weight plays such an important role. The two key biomechanical purposes are: to increase stability and to increase the force.
3) Planting of support leg
This is an essential step of the drop punt. The planted foot braces the player by absorbing the force that is brought on through the speed of the run up. This brace movement also allows the player to get their hip in the best position to create more force in the kicking leg.
4) Ball drop
The ball is guided down and only released once the kicking foot leaves the ground. It is recommended that this occurs about hip height.
The balls need to be vertical when it makes contact with the foot. This means that at the time contact is made, the player is kicking the bottom third of the call, which causes it to spin backwards.
5) Foot speed
This is the speed the foot travels before it connects with the ball. This has an impact on how far the ball will travel, but it also has the greatest effect on the direction the ball takes.
This is naturally the most critical stage of kicking. One of the most important aspects is the player’s instep. This is when the ankle is completely extended, allowing for solid contact from a firm surface. The longer the contact time in the ball drop, the more control the player has over it.
7) Follow through
It is shown that the follow-through of a drop punt provides immediate feedback on the kicking technique. There are three components to it:
- Transfer of weight
- Toe pointed at the target
Now we understand a little more about the biomechanics involved at each stage of the kicking process, what is actually happening to the ball once it is released into the air?
As the ball spins through the air, the air is flowing around the ball from front to back. It spins in the same direction as the ball at the top, but in the opposite direction at the bottom. This movement causes friction. Why?
The air at the bottom of the ball has the ball moving towards it. This is how the backspin works. As a result, the air moves much slower past the ball, and in the process, slows it down.
How do I make a drop punt spin backwards?
It all comes down to the execution of your drop punt. This popular AFL kick is a crucial one for players to master, yet it’s also the hardest one for beginners to learn.
While above we detailed the biomechanics involved in a successful drop punt, here’s each key phase in the process outlined – with what needs to be achieved by the player:
- Steady run up
- Long final step
- Hip rotation
- Ball guide
- Release at hip
- Thigh swing before knee extension
- Impact on boot
- Toes pointed
- Ball spin backwards
- Leg swing straight through after contact
Of course, this is much easier said than done. The drop punt is a hard kick to master, and there are many common mistakes players make.
- Run up: not running straight, which causes the leg to swing across the body. An incorrect drip on the ball, which is one of the main things that causes it not to spin backwards.
- Ball drop: using two hands to guide the ball down instead of just one. Dropping the ball in the centre of the body and not in line with the kicking leg, which doesn’t allow for the best connection.
- Impact: going too hard and losing balance. Kicking with an upward pointed toe, rather than in the direction of the target. This causes the ball to go higher rather than further.
Why is the drop punt the preferred kick?
Now we know exactly what a drop punt entails, why is it the preferred kick in AFL? There are a number of reasons to consider:
- The Magnus Effect discussed above is important, as the back spin actually means the ball is in the air longer, which gives teammates more time to get in position.
- This style kick is also easier for teammates to mark. The angle of the ball changes very little while in flight, which means players can position their hands to trap the ball.
- The bounce that occurs with a drop punt is also much easier to read than other kicks, thanks to the controlled back spin.
Which way does a checkside punt spin?
The check-side kick is also known as the banana kick. The ball is dropped at a 45-degree angle and then it spins sideways in the air. This is where the name banana kick comes from. They are mostly used when players are trying to kick a goal from a tight angle.
Which way does a torpedo punt spin?
The torpedo spin is when both hands are placed on either side of the ball, with one hand being slightly higher than the other.
The player drops the ball on the foot, at a slightly turned angle. This helps the ball travel long distances.
When the player’s kick makes contact with the ball, it spins in a spiral motion.
Other types of AFL kicks
Dribble kick: this is a fairly new type of kick, which entails the ball bouncing off the ground straight after the kick.
Once again, it is commonly used around the goal area where the angle is too tight for even a check-side kick.
Place kick: this is where the ball is placed vertically on a mound and the player kicks from there. This is not often used, due to the time it takes to set up for the kick. It was last used in 1955 when Tony Ongarello kicked a goal for Fitzroy.
Drop kick: this kick goes from hand to the ground, as the player kicks the balls once it bounces up again. This is another skill of the past that isn’t used on the fields anymore, as the drop punt is so much more accurate, making it the more preferred kick.
Mastering the drop punt
The key to the drop punt is mastering the backward spin, so the ball travels in a controlled manner through the air, giving players enough time to get into place for the mark. The drop punt is a predictable kick when executed properly.
However, it’s important to note just how many key stages there are to perfecting this style kick. It’s not a simple task. It’s a whole body, complex skill that needs to be practiced over and over.
Good technique is what leads to a good kick.
According to AFL kicking experts, this begins with the point of impact. This is when the player’s foot first makes contact with the ball. If there is no backspin as a result, then it’s important to work backwards from this point to determine the cause.
One of the best ways to learn this essential skill is by watching the experts.
Some of the best AFL kickers include, Lindsay Gilbee, Alan Didak, Daniel Rich, Trent Cotchin and Aaron Davey. Which each of them varies a little in their kicking technique, all the critical elements are there, such as control, firm foot, acceleration and more.
Watching them execute the drop punt is one of the best ways you can learn.
So, why does the drop punt spin backwards? Put simply, because that’s exactly what’s intended in this style kick. And it offers many benefits on the playing field.