Friday, November 30, 2012

Want to Play Football? Be a Specialist!

Injuries are extraordinarily common in the sport of football.  NFL quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick, Jay Cutler, and Alex Smith were all injured back in Week 10, and all other positions in the sport also come with a risk of injury that's incredibly high.  

Except, of course, for specialists.

Kickers, punters, long-snappers, and even holders are some of the more overlooked members of any football team.  People normally pay attention to a such players only when they make costly mistakes.  But despite the lack of  recognition special teamers get, they are still largely important to the game of football, and boys interested in the sport should consider putting themselves at one of those positions.  For this post, I'll focus on the benefits of kicking (and punting) the ball.

Even though they're not paid as much as the players at most other positions in football, kickers and punters still make more money in a single football season than many Americans make in an entire year.  

The median 2011 salary of a household in the United States? A little more than $50,000 after adjusting for inflation, according to Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times.  

But the lowest-paid kicking specialist listed on USA Today's salary database for the 2009-10 NFL season, Kansas City Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop, earned a total salary of just over $335,000.  That's a huge disparity, even though it's likely very few people know who Succop is.

Kicking and punting aren't skills that everyone has either.  I'm going almost purely off opinion on this, but I think it's much easier to learn how to block a defender or tackle a running back than it is to punt or kick.  Kicking and punting aren't skills everyone has, or even skills that anyone can teach.  If you can put in the time it takes to learn, you've got a chance to succeed, perhaps even make it to the coveted "next level."  

And the risk of injury of kickers and punters?  Not high, probably in-part because you're not getting hit every play.  A 2010 study of injuries to kickers and punters in the NFL revealed just 488 injuries were sustained by kickers between 1988 and 2007. That's an average of just 24.4 injuries per year, not even one per team.  (Even when you consider that the NFL has added four teams since 1988, it's still not one injury per team).  

By contrast, the NFLPA reported an average of 3.7 injuries per NFL team each week in 2010.  Average that number out for all 32 of the NFL's teams over 16 games in a season (probably not the most scientific way of doing things, but it's all I've got) and you come up with a little less than 1900 injuries per year.  

Positions like kicker and punter are also valued members of a football team, regardless of whether they're recognized or not by fans.  Special teams are important, and the people that perform the special duties are contributing vitally to the team as a whole by doing their jobs and doing them well.  Not many people can do those jobs, but they need to be done by someone.  So if you can snap, hold, punt, or kick a football, you're a valued member of a team because you're contributing to the team's success.

At the end of the day, there are quite a number of benefits to being a special teamer in the sport of football.  You can still make a lot of money if you make it to the League and you get hurt less than everyone else, but you are still a valuable member of the team.  So if you want to play football, sign up for a spot as a kicker.  It probably won't hurt a bit.

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