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September 21, 2020 9 min read

Rugby Wisdom Podcast.

Yale Coach, Craig Wilson talks to Vlok Cilliers, French National Team Kicking Coach

 Craig Wilson:Welcome to our Rugby Wisdom show. I’m your host, Craig Wilson. This is the podcast that brings you wisdom from rugby’s greatest minds, and this show is brought to you by World Rugby Shop. This is your destination for exclusive rugby gear, equipment, and team apparel. Visit worldrugbyshop.com. Today, I’m joined by one of the leading kicking coaches in the world, Vlok Cilliers. As a player, Vlok played for Western Province, and also played test match for South Africa versus New Zealand. As a coach, Vlok worked with Blue Bulls alongside legendary Springbok and one of the world’s best kickers, Morné Steyn.  Vlok is now with the French national team, where he works with all the kickers and also builds the kicking strategy for the team.

Vlok, welcome to the podcast. So, kicking is such a crucial part of the game, and I would like to dive behind the scenes and learn what an effective kicking session looks like and the main points players and coaches can focus on for improvement.

Vlok Cilliers: No, definitely. I think what’s important, Craig, and thanks for having me on this podcast. I think for any coach, it is massively important to first understand your role and what you want to achieve in a week. And if you play on a Saturday, which is normally 80%, you have to make sure from a Monday to a Friday, you have to put down what you want to do on a Monday, and a Tuesday, and a Wednesday, when is your hard day, when is a easy day, where you put the mental stuff in. So, first of all, it’s very important for any coach out there to make sure the time that you spend on your attack, the time you spend on your defense, your line outs, your back line stuff, you also need to spend time on your kicking game and with your kickers.

Craig Wilson: No, that’s brilliant. And for like a Tuesday-Thursday grassroots rugby player, what can a kicking session look like when time is a bit more of a constraint?

Vlok Cilliers: Yes, Craig, and I know you don’t have a lot of time, as you say, on the grassroots level, but I say a 10 minutes here and a 15 minutes here is really some good time that you can spend. So, first of all, I think the first thing that you need to focus on is your goal kicking, and that is more or less the most important thing, to spend time with goal kicking. And then the second part is you need to spend time with kicking out of hand, and that can be distance kick, that can be attacking kicks, that can be your real up and unders, the ball in the air. And then the third category will be your restarts, your drop goals, that kind of things to work on, so you can spend like in that 15, 20 minutes that you have, you can do all these three or four different type of kicks. Goal kicking, kicking out of hand, restarts, and attacking kicks, because that is what you’ll be exposed when you get into a game on the weekend.

Craig Wilson: And interestingly, is there different techniques for or process for the types of kick? For example, a place kick to kicking out of hand. Obviously, it’s a different type of kick, but is the process similar?

Vlok Cilliers: Yes. It’s a good question, Craig. Now, there’s a lot of similarities. Obviously, you need to have your eyes on the ball. You need to have good balance with this, you need to keep your head still, and as one of my biggest philosophies, the more balance you have, the more your head is still, and there’s no movement of your head, then obviously there will be no or less movement of your body. So, balance is playing a critical or big role in kicking, but the one, the goal kicking, the ball will be on the tee and the ball will be still, standing still or what you can call it, and then the other kicks is where the ball is in your hand and then there will be movements to your kicking leg, which make it difficult. But the main focus points always will be you need to keep your eyes on the ball. I always said that your eyes and your ball must always be connect with each other, so you must never take your eyes off the ball. Always keep your eyes on the ball, and then obviously with that, you need to have good balance, and you need to have a nice upright body position.

You can’t cram or be like a vertical comma. You need to be nice and upright. Your shoulders need to be squared to the ball at 45-degree angle, and then your kicking leg is playing a big role. I always said your kicking leg, with the follow through or your leg swing, always need to work to the target. From the tee, goal kicking, out of hand, always your kicking leg needs to work to the target or to where your target is, because you’re actually steering the ball in the direction you want the ball to go.

Craig Wilson: No, thanks for sharing. And how about, and often at the elite level I believe this will be much more commonplace, but more at the grassroots level, what’s our opinion around mental reps and how players and coaches can develop that?

Vlok Cilliers: Yeah. You see, I think there’s, and I especially think at grassroots level, not a lot of players or kickers and even coaches spend enough time on the mental side, and I realized it a few years ago that you need to spend a lot of time on the mental side. Doesn’t help you’re a good kicker, but your mental side is lacking. And you can have the best technique and you can train your butt off and prepare so well for a game, but if the mental side is lacking, then obviously you won’t be a good kicker. So, you also need to spend time on the mental side, and that is with what we’re talking earlier before we started recording, is you need to… You can be in your room. You can stand there in your room before you went to bed and sleep at night, you can have a mental session in the afternoon at the club field, or in the evening at the club field, where you actually don’t have a ball in your hand and you can do different things, different type of kicks, five different type of kicks just with your kicking tee and nothing else in your hand, and you can mentally put the ball down, go through your pre-kick routine, come forward, kick the ball, and you can actually see that ball going through the posts, because you also need to develop your belief system that you will be a successful kicker.

So, you need to spend time with that setup and make sure that you walk back, do your pre-kick routine, come up, kick the ball, and you see how the ball is going through the posts, because when you get into a game, it’s that muscle memory that will kick into place and that will help you to be a successful kicker.

Craig Wilson: Brilliant, and just lastly, kind of on the aspects of kicking, I often find at my level where I’m coaching, maybe I’m doing the players a disservice, because we’re always kicking in a nice environment. But what I find as the game goes on and fatigue kicks in, that technique can kind of drop off from there. So, is there anything you can share around actually kicking within the demands of the game?

Vlok Cilliers: Yes. That’s a good question, Craig, and I always say to my kickers or wherever I go with the kicking game, obviously that’s why I always like to work with my kickers after training, and the reason for that is then they will be fatigued, their muscles will be… They will be, because they run a lot, and do a lot of activities and a lot of team training, so they will all be tired, and their muscle memories will be tired, as well. So, that’s why I like to kick after training, first of all. And second, I always say to my kickers once you’re in the game, your heartbeat will always be high, so when you get into a kick and there’s a penalty for a goal kick, or if you score a try, the first thing that you need to do, you need to calm yourself down. Doesn’t matter, it doesn’t help you running to the ball, try and get the ball, and finish the kick as quickly as possible. You will just put yourself under more pressure. So, the first thing you must do as a kicker at any level, just slow yourself down. Just slow your heartbeat down, drop your heartbeat, take some deep breaths, and just slowly walk up to the ball, slowly walk up to the mark on the field where the kick is, and with that, immediately start to get your muscle memories active. Immediately just get your brain to calm down, to get in that pre-kick routine, to focus on the process.

Because a lot of guys, they rush through the ball, take the ball, put the ball on the tee, and they’re still tired, their heartbeat is still high, and nine out of ten times, they will miss that kick. So, just slow yourself down. Just drop your heartbeat. And then you start to concentrate, and when you get to the kick, you will find out you’re more relaxed, and you’re more focused, and that will help you a lot.

Craig Wilson: Okay, thanks for sharing that, and just out of a more general term, and I think a lot of people in World Rugby would be really interested in this, what is it like being in the French environment right now?

Vlok Cilliers: No, listen. I think the biggest challenge is obviously language. French is a different language to speak and to understand, so that is my first, my biggest challenge at the moment, just to get some French words that I can talk to the players and talk to the team and the coaches. So, I’m slowly learning and busy learning the rugby terms, first of all, just to make it easier for myself. But the second is it’s a very nice environment to be, because I think they’re like a sleeping giant in World Rugby at the moment, first of all. Second, the next World Cup is in France, so they will do everything in the power to make sure this next French team will do well in the next World Cup, and there’s a lot of talent at the moment in the French squad, in the French top 40 in Rugby, guys who’s between the age of 19 to 23, which is still a lot of youngers and they have a lot of amazing talent.

So, the nice thing at the moment, Craig, is there is so much talent, and the big thing is to take all that talent and to put them in one line, and to make sure that we tick all the boxes to make sure that we, at the end of the day, when we put that Ferrari on the track, that we tick all the boxes for that Ferrari to compete for 75 rounds, and we’re busy molding that Ferrari in all departments to make sure when we go onto the field, that all this talent is into one place and the mind and everything is working in one direction.

Craig Wilson: Brilliant. Thank you for sharing that, Vlok. Just to wrap up, can you tell me a little bit more about your kicking consultancy and how you can help with players and coaches around the world?

Vlok Cilliers: Yes. Craig, I got so much people and kickers, you can call it people, you can call it kickers, from all over the world. I got a video from a guy in Iran. And they’re from Spain, and Belgium, and Germany, and France, or in the U.K., even. I get so much people that ask me to help them, but you can’t. You can’t be with everybody on the field. So, I created this digital online platform that doesn’t matter where in the world this guy is, I can coach him, I can make him better, I can work on his mental side, I can give him drills, and I can improve him, and I can make him a better kicker, and I can even make him a world class kicker going forward. I can improve him in all departments without even standing next to him. Just by working online with the technology that we have, with him sending me videos, I send him videos back. You have to look at that and give him kicking drills once a week. Once a month, I will have this Q&A talk about the mental side. He can ask me questions and there will be feedback and homework, so I created this digital online platform where you can help kickers all over the world.

Craig Wilson: Brilliant, and look, the world’s a small place now, and especially with all this remote learning, so I would really encourage the listeners to have a look and check that out. So, Vlok, thank you so much for sharing your time with me. Absolutely brilliant wisdom around the kicking game. And all the best, mate.

Vlok Cilliers: Thanks, Craig. I appreciate the time and some really good questions, and all the best with you at Yale there, and once you’re back and start training, and we will stay in contact.

Craig Wilson: We sure will. Thanks, mate.

Vlok Cilliers: Thank you.

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