– Just Kick It: Tales of an Underdog, Over-Age, Out-of-Place Semi-Pro Football Player by Mark St.
Having been a high school kicker myself growing up in Florida, this book caught my attention right away. And after picking it up, it was such a good read that I completed it in only 3 days. The story spoke to me in a number of ways: going from soccer player to place kicker, fitting in as a minority being one of the only white guys on the team, the thrills and anxiety of competition, and the question that goes through the mind of most over-the-hill athletes – “Could I still do it?” Not only that, but now, as a sport psychology consultant, there are tons of great, experiential anecdotes about the mentality of an athlete in this book.
In Just Kick It, writer Mark St. chronicles his first season as a 37-year-old, first time place kicker for the Boston Panthers, an inner-city Boston semi-pro football team. After researching the history of semi-pro leagues in the United States (which would have made a pretty interesting book on its own), one of St. contacts asks him if he’d be interested in kicking for the Panthers and before he knows it he’s blurted out “Sure, why not?” St. writing style is compelling, mixing stories about practices, games, his teammates’ backgrounds, disappointments, and celebrations.
In my own experience, I found that being a kicker had all the mental challenges faced by a golfer, but with 11 guys way bigger than you barking at you, talking smack, and then charging you at full speed, praying for a chance to pummel the poor kicker. Another mental challenge is that you are not quite looked at as a real football player, but depended upon heavily to win or lose games – in other words, a necessary evil. But perhaps the greatest challenge I faced was getting on the team to begin with. Coming from the soccer team, incorrectly labelled a wimpy sport, being unsure of my ability, and having to learn a new kicking technique (I distinctly remember hitting the center in the butt in my first two practice field goal attempts, and the look he gave me and then the coach afterwards) was not easy.
St. captures these challenges in great detail. Joining the team in the first place, not knowing anyone, and having to prove himself not only to the team and its coach, but in his own mind as well, were the first obstacles. Later, in another instance, he is put in a situation where the amount of extra conditioning the rest of the team had to do was on his shoulders. And then the pressures of kicking live, in games, with fans and teammates looking on, he his successes and failures, and the confidence and focus involved in each. His explanation of his mental state in each of these situations contain great lessons that could be applied to any athlete.
The confidence and mental state of any athlete is crucial to the success and enjoyment of any athlete. I highly suggest Just Kick It for athletes and coaches alike. It’s well written, funny, and sometimes sad. I found myself a Boston Panther fan at the end of the book, cheering them on as the good guys, and hoping their season would keep going. The details of the sport psych side of his experience: teamwork, positive thinking, focus, and confidence, that he lays out in the book will definitely give you something to use in your own sport.