Lessons learned by the NFL's semi-finalists (Part-1)

Butker is not the only NFL kicker whose career began in soccer. The Dallas Cowboys lost 48-32 at home to the Green Bay Packers in the wildcard round of the playoffs, but kicker Brandon Aubrey may be proud of his season.

The 28-year-old rookie hit 94.7% of his field goals in the regular season. He established an NFL record with 36 straight field goals to start a career. One shot was stopped and another clanked off the upright in a win against the Washington Commanders in the last week of the regular season, ending Aubrey's perfect record.

Aubrey's development is amazing because he didn't kick an American football seriously until 2019, aged 24. Aubrey played two seasons with the USFL Birmingham Stallions before joining the Cowboys last year. Toronto FC drafted him as a soccer player. How much did his soccer background help?

“It’s a huge advantage to have a soccer background,” says John Carney, who played 23 seasons in the NFL, won Super Bowl XLIV with the New Orleans Saints, and coaches kickers. Most high-level kickers, whether in college or the NFL, started off playing soccer (99%). It’s nearly necessary.

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl-winning kicker Martin Gramatica credits his success to playing soccer in Argentina. He explains, “I always kicked with a natural soccer style.” I naturally aligned sideways. Didn't take three steps back and two over. It was too mechanical. I adjusted my technique to feel natural.”

It's not as easy as leaving soccer for the NFL. England captain Harry Kane would have hurdles if he played in the NFL after a soccer-heavy childhood.

First of all, they're going to find it boring,” Carney adds. “There are hundreds of ways to kick a soccer ball in a game—passing, chipping, bending left, right, driving. Kicks are few in football. It gets difficult to do it every time. You must snap and hold. You must lift and remove that ball in 1.3 seconds before it is blocked. NFL error margins are small. You risk being fired if your success rate is below the mid-80s.

Soccer players' long-honed ball-striking talent means they know the technical criteria for place kicking, but they must relearn old habits.