The twenty-five year old rookie quarterback with a million tattoos, a funny last name, and a superbowl to play in front of the nation. Anyone would wonder just what it is that Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco 49'ers #7) is doing so right. How does a person go from a starter with University of Nevada to playing in a 13-3 season in the NFL the next?
This article will try to break down a few of the things that Kaepernick is doing that are good guidelines for any aspiring athlete to mirror.
Control Momentum to Move Around Defenders
Reaction time is key for any athlete. Whatever sport is in question, if the player is simply too slow, it opens up frustrating opportunities for loss.
In football, the player carrying the ball has advantages and disadvantages when it comes to contact with the opposing team. One of the advantages of getting hit by the other teams defense, is that, if there are only one or two defenders, the ball carrier can attempt to time his collision with one or both. One key element of Kaepernick's game is his ability to pick his timing so that he is able to feint. When the defenders begin to believe that they will genuinely get a piece of him, Kaepernick takes advantage of his cat-like light-footedness, and keeps his tacklers from making “inelastic collisions”. Contact that locks onto the ball carrier and doesn't let him go is called an “inelastic collision”, conversely, an elastic collision does not stick, either because the defender could not lock himself onto the ball carrier, or the ball carrier was able to redirect the momentum of the collision before or after contact. By making sure that he stays disconnected and fluid through the few times he comes into physical contact with the opposing team, he is able to bounce along the outer edges of the tackling forces, adjust, rebound, and re-accelerate down the field.
Exercises to help control momentum:
- Backstroke and Freestyle swimming
- Underwater Disc Catching Drills
- Pole-vaulting and trampoline gymnastics
- Martial Arts
- Monkey Lunge Bars
Stay Off the Ground
Kaepernick stays lean, almost looking more like a kicker than a quarterback. His lighter weight gives him more control over his downfield movements, and makes it easier to change the entire direction of the play. The niners' quarterback is nimble, while maintaining his strength. At any time, an open lance can be taken advantage of for a safe run to the outside. This effectively advances the team, stops the clock, and avoids catastrophic injury. It appears that Kaepernick has done an incredible feat, already: he has learned from the mistakes of others, before making them himself. Roethlesburger, Vick, Kevin Kolb (Cardinals QB), RGIII, and even the Niner's own Alex Smith- with all of the irresponsible (or at least, over-zealous) ball-handling going around the NFL these last two months, it's no wonder that Kaepernick has a healthy respect for the time he possesses the pigskin.
When watching Kaepernick, it's not hard to find a moment when either both feet are bouncing through the air or one foot is stretched behind him, on the tip of the ball of his controlling foot. This is because the young quarterback excels at keeping himself agile and in control of his every move through subtle striding movements that would-be tacklers have trouble seeing.
(Fun Fact: When he was young, Kaepernick WAS a punter in a California pee-wee football team.)
Exercises for staying lean and light-footed:
- Uphill running in sand (for an added challenge, wear a weight-vest or carry kettle bells)
- HIIT sprints after moderate cardio sessions
- Tire drills (not in a straight line, that is an unimaginative, unrealistic, and limiting drill for the athlete)
- Devote time to developing and modifying a nutritional plan- on a regular basis- that keeps unneeded body fat from hindering movement.
- Stay flexible with stretching sessions every couple of days, or even daily if needed. Remember that stretching is counterproductive if done at the wrong segment of a workout program, or the wrong time of the day.
Use Limbs and Core Strength for Balance
Just like a squirrel uses it's long fluffy tail to balance and keep itself from tumbling to the ground, this QB uses his limbs to keep himself out of the defense's reach. Being a rookie, it is actually pretty amazing to see this amount of mastery over his own body's weight. Kaepernick is a little over 6'4”, weighing in at 233lbs. during his initial draft. It does not come natural to any person to keep their torso at the center of their movements, instead of flailing and “moving-with-the- shoulders-and legs”, as it's known.
Exercises for increasing balance and coordination:
- Medicine ball toss
- Weighted lunges (over moderately long distance; at varying degrees of ground tilt, speed; and weight)
- Wrestling or grappling
- Diligent and regular practice rushing through “defenders” (could substitute dummies or pads)
Obviously one of the novel things about San Francisco this year that stands out, is the play calling genius from the field. Not only did the rookie get some time to hone his skills, but before that, Alex Smith was calling shots that left points on the board and rival fans in disbelief. Perhaps it was backing up Smith that helped Kaepernick to develop his timing and route choice this late in the year, but just as announcers were chattering the day after that game against the Saints with so many bad calls, the second infamous Packers game in one year was caused by Kaepernick running the ball like a mad man through magical lanes through the cheeseheads' defense.
It took some serious mental work to see those lanes appearing. How can the brain be trained to crunch physical puzzles quickly under enormous stress? Studies show that development in one area of the brain or body tends to affect and often benefit other areas.
Activites for increasing mental agility:
- Tennis or raquetball
- Dancing (as silly as it sounds, there is a lot to be said for letting loose, grabbing a partner, and showing off the moves for fun... after all, why is it that so many sports figures are good at “Dancing with the Stars”?)
- A simple game of catch, outside of the whatever sport the athlete is used to (for example, if they are used to football, try tossing a baseball around...)
- Avoid excessive consumption of mind-altering substances, such as alcohol, nicotine, etc. These and other recreational substances can stay in the body for long periods of time (up to one month), and absolutely will affect the mental process.
- No matter what Nas may say, sleep is not “the cousin of death”. Stay disciplined and maintain at least one, if not two flexible sleep schedules. One for working days, and one for rest days is recommended.
Patience and Seizing the Perfect Moment
This might sound like a fru-fru mentality for some of the more die-hard football fans, out there, but staying calm and clear-headed are essential tools for any athlete's arsenal. The zen approach that young Colin is bringing to the field is evident with only a few snapshots of the milliseconds after the snap. With his eyes almost glazed, it looks like the man is almost removed from his body... until, of course, the moment he rockets back to earth and jettisons a bullet into the hands of a receiver.
Another way to look at this skill, is that Kaepernick is cold as ice until the moment when he chooses to act. Any action is better than no action, as fans of the Cowboys have been screaming at Tony Romo for years. It looks like San Francisco won't be having those problems - not with the new QB, at least.
Notes about patience:
- In any sport or high stress environment, there are a lot of actions that happen within and outside the body. The best method for improving mental clarity and avoiding the overwhelming affects of acute stress is always the same: putting oneself in a challenging, stressful position and struggling to overcome. The United States military uses this method for months upon months for its members, in preparation for combat, and the principle stays the same for those who aspire to greatness. Find areas that are uncomfortable, stressful, and achievable. DOMINATE those situations, and do not give up.
Consistency of Motor Movements and Safety
The last key item that this article will cover, is the pattern of movement that consistently shows up on the 49'ers offense. Kaepernick owes a lot to his line, and the route runners he passes to, but the same can be said of them about him. Every snap, Kaepernick uses one of a few concrete movements to either escape the confrontation on the line, sink the ball unnoticed into the hands of a running back, or cock-back and launch a pass down the field. The same movements, every time.
While using the same exact pattern on every play is never wise, because it would give advantage to the opposing team to always be the same, it is invaluable to a player to perfect and execute certain motions for every key and subsidiary role pertaining to their job.
Happy Superbowl, everyone!