STs: Beard's kicks come from visualization
Visualization techniques have helped kicker Rob Beard be prepared for his rare moments
By Ron Bellamy, The Register-Guard, Published: (Thursday, Sep 1, 2011 10:41AM) Midnight, Sept. 1
Rob Beard has attempted only 14 field goals in his Oregon career and never in that most dramatic of circumstances, with the clock winding down and the game on the line.
And yet if that situation ever comes up, it will be somewhat familiar for Beard, because chances are that regardless of the distance, or the time, or whether the spot is on the left hash or the right, that he's seen that kick before, and made it.
Many athletes use visualization, in many sports, and Beard and Oregon's other kicking specialists do so with strength and conditioning coach Jim Radcliffe.
"We all visualize certain pressure moments, getting the job done," Beard said recently. "Yesterday he took us into Autzen, and I was visualizing kicking a 37-yarder with 10 seconds left, time running down, from left and right hash. Today I visualized many kicks already. ... There are so many. You can't just dream about one."
Radcliffe also works on visualization techniques with pitchers in the UO baseball program, and pole vaulters in the track and field program. Those cases, as well as kickers, involve athletes who must focus for a short burst of action and then, sometimes after a substantial period of time, "re-focus" on perfect technique — "mastering the positives" — sometimes after a mistake. On Friday nights before football games, Radcliffe said, when the Ducks break off into position groups, he'll bring the specialists together for visualization.
"The abilities to re-focus then bring you to the ability to relax," said Radcliffe, who noted that the Kevin Costner baseball movie "For the Love of the Game" incorporates many of the elements that he discusses with Oregon athletes.
"When you're not on the field, or on the mound, what do you do to calm yourself down and re-focus?" Radcliffe said. "There's a methodology for that. Everyone has a different thing, whether it's talking to themselves outwardly or inwardly, or whether it's a breathing thing. We try to practice that as often as possible so that in a game situation, they have more freedom to go for it, like they do in a practice, when there are no stakes on it."
It's an area in which Beard has improved, Radcliffe said.
"I would say he's getting better at it," Radcliffe said. "He's not having the same issues he was having two years ago. My view of Rob is that he's a good kicker, but he kind of comes from a linebacker mentality, and so in the past, when something didn't go well, he might be over on the sideline pissed off, wanting to smack his helmet, or something like that.
"Now it's more of a `calm yourself, re-focus, relax, focus on the positives.'"
Beard, who came to Oregon from Fullerton, Calif., as a walk-on kickoff specialist, won that job in the 2009 season. He attempted just one field goal that season — a 51-yarder against UCLA that was blocked — but won the placekicking job last season while retaining kickoff duties.
Beard attempted only a few field goals at Troy High School, a high-scoring offense that didn't try that many of them and, yes, that sounds familiar.
And so Beard has no problem identifying his most meaningful field goal last season; it was his first attempt, in the second game of the season, the heavily favored Ducks trailing 6-0 at Tennessee.
"We hadn't put any points on the board," he said. "I had never kicked a field goal before. ... It was right down the middle from 37. I'll always remember that kick. I felt not too much pressure on it, but I knew I had to make it to set a tone for myself and for the season and let people know that I can actually do the job and that I'm the person for it."
It's not unlike quarterback Darron Thomas wanting to complete his first pass, or running back LaMichael James seeking to make a statement on his first carry, Beard said, but as he noted "the kicker has a limited amount of opportunities."
Especially in the high-powered Oregon offense, where kicking field goals is not generally high on coach Chip Kelly's list of priorities. And yet Beard made the most of his opportunities last season — he was 10-of-13 on field goals and 63-of-64 on extra points. He was 5-of-6 on field goals between 20 and 29 yards, 3-of-4 from 30 to 39 and 2-of-3 from 40 to 49 yards, with a season-long of 42.
He made his first eight field-goal attempts, not missing until he misfired twice at Cal, a 15-13 Oregon win that was the Ducks' closest game of the regular season; he made 59 straight PATs until missing in the Civil War.
The extenuating circumstance of the late misses was the season-ending injury to holder Nate Costa; in the late games, when all the misses occurred, Beard was working with new holders, Jackson Rice and Dustin Haines.
"It's something that I've really learned from," he said. "Looking back on it now, it was my first year, and coming with a new holder like that, I might have let it go to my head. ... I'd done a lot of work with Nate in the offseason, and I was set on Nate, and Jackson coming in, it kind of threw me off. It was more like thinking `if the holder's changed, maybe there's something I've got to change.' But in reality, I don't have to change anything. I still have to do my job. That's something I really realize now."
Although Rice is the projected holder this season, Beard said that Haines, quarterback Bryan Bennett and kicker-punter Alejandro Maldonado have also held in fall camp.
Before last season, Beard changed his technique from a three-step approach to a two-step. In an offseason of hard work — "when the BCS game was over, I just went to work and said `I don't want to miss this year'" — Beard said he has simply refined that technique.
"It's second nature to me now," he said. "It's so easy to me now. I recite this in my head — I go `step, step, plant, kick,' and that's every time. Every single field goal, I recite that."
On the preseason watch list for the Lou Groza Award, which goes to the best kicker in college football, Beard wants to improve his accuracy this year, improve his kickoffs, and get another shot at a 50-yarder.
Suffice to say, he can already see the football splitting the uprights.