NASHVILLE, Tenn. — NFL specialists can tend to be eccentric, and former Tennessee Titans kicker Rob Bironas was no exception during his nine-year career with the team.
“I remember the first time I held the ball, he was about ready to swing the ball and he told me, ‘too much lean,’ and then he hit the ball, said Titans punter Brett Kern, who held for the late Bironas during the entirety of his Titans career.
“He literally called out what the hold was before he even kicked it, during his swing, so that was that was pretty unique.”
Bironas’ habit of analyzing Kern’s holds is among many quirks used by kickers and punters to overcome the mental strain of playing in the NFL.
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) August 18, 2020
While proper technique and skill are certainly important for kickers and punters in the NFL, most would argue that the mental component of the game is equally, or perhaps more, prevalent.
“It’s huge,” Titans special teams coordinator Craig Aukerman said. “When a guy has confidence in himself, that part plays such a big role in the kicker’s psyche.”
Even the best kickers miss field goals. Even the best punters have the occasional shank.
That’s why NFL specialists can’t allow their minds to be overcome with negativity after a situation where they failed.
“It’s definitely one of the more mental positions in sports,” said Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski, a three-time Super Bowl champion with the Patriots. “I just try to stay even-keeled—never get too high when I’m doing well or get too low when I’m doing badly.”
He’s nearly 11 months removed from surgery, and he was kicking again by the end of the 2019 season. https://t.co/ccp3xeMUpe
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) September 7, 2020
To achieve that stability, most NFL specialists turn to activities away from football.
“I would probably imagine every single kicker and punter in the National Football League is out there playing golf, helping themselves mentally,” Aukerman said.
Kern certainly does.
“A lot of golf and punting is just rhythm, and so the swings are kind of similar just with timing and things like that,” Kern said.
Gostkowski uses several different non-football sports as a release.
“I’m a fan of playing a bunch of different sports,” he said.
“I like to try my hand at anything. It’s one of those things where you’ve got to get comfortable with the repercussions of screwing up. It’s just part of being a kicker—you can’t worry about that stuff too much.”
The Titans’ specialists, Gostkowski in particular, will be under a lot of pressure in 2020. The 2019 Titans were one of the worst field-goal kicking teams in NFL history, and missed field goals played a major role in several of the team’s losses.
As a result, having mental toughness will be perhaps more important than ever for Kern and Gostkowski, who is beginning his first season with the Titans.
“I am excited to go out there and have to prove myself to these guys, and prove that I am worthy to be a Titan,” Gostkowski said.
Cover image: Mark Konezny & Christopher Hanewinckel / USA Today