Sunday, December 26, 2010

Icing the kicker works

Icing, when a team calls a timeout before a field goal is attempted, has been a part of football since a coach first realized that kickers might be an eccentric lot. Some kickers dread it. The best ones ignore it. But a study published in September by a University of San Diego professor has delivered the worst news of all to kickers: Icing works. Really, really well.

Nadav Goldschmied, an adjunct professor at the university’s psychology department, examined field goals over six seasons, 2002 to 2007. He identified 273 attempts that he considered “pressure” kicks, those attempted in overtime, or with one minute or less remaining in regulation when the kicking team was tied or trailing by 3 points or fewer.

Of the 163 field-goals attempted when a timeout was not called before the kick, 80.4 percent were successful. But in the 110 cases when the kicker was iced, the success rate dropped to 66.4 percent, a difference that Goldschmied — and probably every coach in the N.F.L. — considers significant.

Not surprisingly, kickers were more successful when their team called the timeout (83.3 percent), than they were when the opposing team did (64.4 percent). That is an indication that it is the element of surprise and disruption to the routine, not merely the extra time to think about the stakes, that causes the difficulty for kickers. The study found the success rate after icing was not affected by home-field advantage or the kicker’s years of experience.

“I was very surprised at the effect,” Goldschmied said. “Two things made a difference in successful field goals: distance of kick, which we expected, and the icing variable. The one thing is that there is rumination; it gives you enough to think about what is going to happen if you miss. I think maybe an additional mechanism is that you have a kicker about to kick, he’s ready and then they wait until the end and then ask for a timeout. Maybe the preparation itself is taxing.”
--Judy Battista, NYT, on how to induce a choke

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