Experts help fans to 'see' the science behind those football kicks

Dec 21, 2010 by Amy Patterson Neubert

( -- For the football player who manages to save his team's postseason or clinch a victory by kicking an extra point or field goal, chances are the goalposts looked pretty big, according to two Purdue University experts.

"For those who do score, whether it's kicking a regular extra point early in the game or scoring the game-winning field goal, their successful performance will help them to see the goalposts as larger and wider," said Jessica K. Witt, an assistant professor of psychological sciences who studies perception in sports. "Our research shows that people who successfully kick a through goalposts will see them as farther apart and the crossbar lower to the ground than people who continue to not kick well. Those who do not kick well report seeing a much smaller goal."

Witt's research, which looks at perception in golf, softball, football and tennis, is inspired by the anecdote that when an athlete plays well, the target looks bigger. Witt has found that the success and failure of athletes affects their perception.

The football study, which was co-authored by Travis Dorsch, a doctoral student and former NFL and college player, appeared in October 2009 in the journal . The football findings are based on the kicking performance of 23 non-football athletes who kicked from the center of the field at the 10-yard line. Study participants who missed because they kicked the ball too wide judged the goal to be narrower, and those who missed because they kicked the ball too short judged the goal to be taller.

The study participants were asked to estimate the size of the goalposts before and after kicking. There was no correlation between performance and how the goalposts were viewed before kicking, however, the perceived size of the goalposts after kicking was positively correlated with kicking performances. Witt and Dorsch will continue their work by studying college and professional kickers.

"Even when looking at novices, this does answer some basic questions about how the body and brain work together on the football field," said Dorsch, who was a kicker on Purdue's football team from 1998-2001. "As an athlete you don't always think about how these mechanisms operate, but the more you can learn about yourself the better off you will be."

Dorsch, who is working on a doctoral degree in the Department of Health and Kinesiology, was named an All-American kicker in 2001 and set Big Ten Conference career records for points scored and field goals. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2002.

Explore further: Mothers don't speak so clearly to their babies

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study: Football coaches are conservative

Feb 27, 2006

A University of California-Berkeley researcher says he's discovered professional football coaches tend toward conservative decision-making behavior.

Recommended for you

Mothers don't speak so clearly to their babies

Jan 23, 2015

People have a distinctive way of talking to babies and small children: We speak more slowly, using a sing-song voice, and tend to use cutesy words like "tummy". While we might be inclined to think that we ...

Explainer: What is sexual fluidity?

Jan 23, 2015

Sexual preferences are not set in stone and can change over time, often depending on the immediate situation the individual is in. This has been described as sexual fluidity. For example, if someone identifies as heterosexual but th ...

Lucky charms: When are superstitions used most?

Jan 23, 2015

It might be a lucky pair of socks, or a piece of jewelry; whatever the item, many people turn to a superstition or lucky charm to help achieve a goal. For instance, you used a specific avatar to win a game and now you see ...

Low-income boys fare worse in wealth's shadow

Jan 22, 2015

Low-income boys fare worse, not better, when they grow up alongside more affluent neighbors, according to new findings from Duke University. In fact, the greater the economic gap between the boys and their neighbors, the ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Dec 21, 2010
I hope the NFL and the NCAA are funding this, not another taxpayer earmark.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.