How NFL Detroit Lions All Pro Punter Jack Fox Handles Pressure
Most people believe a myth that NFL kickers and punters don’t feel pressure, but this is false. NFL kickers and punters do battle daily with the pressure of performance just like high school and college players do. NFL All Pro Detroit Lions Punter Jack Fox is no different.
“I remember sitting around feeling really down and really doubting myself after the Chiefs cut me from training camp in August 2019,” Jack began.
Jack and I had connected via Twitter after he had liked a few tweets I had put out on the mental side of kicking. By no means was I coaching Jack Fox, in fact, Jack was kind enough to catch up on the phone every once in a while through his NFL football journey with me just to let me continue to ask questions and learn about his experiences.
If anything, Jack’s taught me infinitely more than anything he’s ever learned from me.
Since we first connected Jack has had an incredible start to his punting career and I was eager to hear his thoughts and reflections on where he began versus now. Enjoy.
Me: So how did high school football compare to your experiences as a punter in college? Not a lot of people know that you were a pretty good high school quarterback.
“In high school, I played quarterback. So, really the most I could think about kicking or punting was maybe for 30 seconds, and then I would go right back in on offense or defense. It’s a real benefit to play another position in high school - it really helped keep my mind off of punting,”
“But, then as I got into college at Rice University I started to only punt for the first time in my life. I was really focusing on learning my mechanics, technique and drill work and I had a lot more time to think about it all off to the side during practices. That was probably the hardest part of playing in college.”
Me: How did your NFL experience depart from your college experience?
“Once I got into the NFL with the Chiefs, I got even more into my technique - probably a little too much. I would worry so much about all this technical stuff in my head right before taking a rep that I’d forget that my number one job was hitting a bomb. Eventually, I lost the punting battle in Kansas and was back home.”
“I had a lot of doubt when I was back home living with my parents. You start to question who you are, and what you’re doing with your life. What eventually helped me was deciding to go live and train daily with a few other NFL punters in the off season down in Alabama with guys like LA Charger’s punter Ty Long and Las Vegas Raiders punter A.J. Cole. You can learn a lot from a kicking or punting coach when you’re first starting out, but once you hit a certain level of play, I found I get more out competing and training with other pro’s.”
“When I was brought into Detroit to workout towards the end of the 2019 season, I had sort of come to the realization that I’ve never hit a good ball when I was thinking about mechanics beforehand. I just focused on swinging confidently and trying to blast a bomb every rep. I mis hit a few punts that day, but did well enough to get signed to their practice squad.”
Me: So many young athletes, especially specialists struggle with being confident. They don’t want to be seen as cocky. What’s your approach to being confident while not being cocky?
“Truly, I’ve never had a good punt that I hit that I wasn’t trying to turn into a bomb. A lot of it comes from your preparation. When you take care of your preparation in the off season and get your mechanics really polished, it’s a lot easier to just trust yourself during the season.”
Train It, Trust It
Jack, like other great athletes in high pressure positions, uses what world renown PGA sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella calls with his players, “Train It, Trust It”.
All great golfers must first train their swing and then learn to trust it.
The same concept applies to kicking, tennis or baseball pitching.
The Bible itself in Ecclesiastes says plainly, “There is a time and place for everything under the sun…,” NFL Titans Kicking Coach James Wilhoit also says, “January to May is your time to train your swing, while June to December is your time to just trust it.”
Unlike other positions like quarterback or sports like soccer where the action moves faster than your ability to think, kickers have a lot of time to think about what they are about to do. But, kicking and punting is best performed as a simple unconscious reaction rather than something you can consciously think about as you do it.
The paradox, however, is that you can’t think and kick well at the same time, but you can’t improve without thinking about it once in a while.
So how do you think without thinking?
I believe it comes to be intentional and clear with yourself what “hat” are you wearing? Are you working on your technique right now or are you working on trusting that technique like you’re kicking in a game?
You also need some kind of a pre swing ritual or routine that helps you stop thinking, get out of your head and into your swing. Every specialist in the NFL has one of these, but typically it consists of:
Look at your target.
Look at the ball.
Simply react and swing.
Ideally, you’re simply reacting to the ball, but if you can’t turn your brain off, some kickers find using “swing thoughts”, or small 1-2 words phrases as mantras to focus in their head, helps to increase performance.
For example, if you know that you struggle with keeping your head down until you finish your kick, you might have the following swing thought running on replay in your head prior to the kick:
“Head Down, Swing Hard!”
But, perhaps the final and most difficult part of dealing with performance pressure as a specialist, or really any athlete is acceptance, especially when you hit a bad shot. Football is intentionally designed to be a game of mistakes because it is played by flawed human beings who will all make mistakes.
While there are a lot of similarities between kicking and golf there is one clear difference: the ball doesn’t stay still and you are reliant upon 10 other flawed people to do their job of blocking, snapping and holding so you might have a shot to do yours well.
Point blank: You can do everything right as a kicker or punter and still miss a kick from time to time.
You need to accept that whatever swing you bring with you to the field that day, whatever snap/hold you get and whatever pop on the ball you have that day, it is always, always going to be more than good enough to get the job done for the day.