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Monday, September 8, 2008

Kicking a Ball & The Olympics

I love watching the Olympics. And this year it was great to see all the attention being paid to Michael Phelps who is now not only considered the best swimmer in the world, but as the greatest Olympian in history.

But as a kicking coach, of course it got me thinking; "just who is, or would be, the best kicker in the world?"

I've mulled this idea over for many years, but during this Olympics, the desire to know the answer to this question was a bit stronger.

I decided to discuss this idea with my media guy, Craig Kasnoff, and between the two of us we agreed the only way to find this out was to have a global kicking competition which included kickers from all sports in which 'kicking a ball' was an integral part of the game. Sports like soccer, American football, Australian football and rugby.

And what better venue to conduct this competition then the Olympics.

It interesting that in the last few months I've been contacted by, and have worked with kickers from countries all around the world.

Today I worked with Jon Ryan from Canada, and this last week I worked with Shane Phillips from Australia and Danny Baugher from America. Next week, I will be working with two world class rugby players from England. The following week I will be working with Romeen Abdollmohammandi who is from Iran.

This past year, I worked with NFL players Sebastian Janikowski, from Poland and also with Mitch Berger and Mike Vanderjagt who are both from Canada. During my NFL career as a Special Teams Coach I coached kickers like Gary Anderson who is from South Africa and Faud Reviez who is of Mexican heritage.

I have recently been contacted by a Chinese soccer player who has aspiration to be an NFL kicker.

Kicking a ball is a global sports activity. So, it is crystal clear, the best way to have a global 'kicking a ball' competition would be to make it an Olympic event.

To this end, we created the following letter and sent it to the International Olympic Committee, requesting them to make 'kicking a ball' an Olympic event.

September 07, 2008

Jacques Rogge
International Olympic Committee
Chateau de Vidy
1007 Lausanne, Switzerland

Dear Mr. Rogge,

As someone who has coached 'kicking a football' for over 35 years, and has been an ardent fan of the Olympics for at least as long, I am respectfully requesting the IOC add the activity of ‘kicking a ball’ to the 2012 Olympics in London as an individual or team sport.

My request is not one of frivolity or without fore-thought, but rather an attempt to bring recognition to an activity which is currently perhaps the most practiced, and oldest sports activity in the world; the art of 'kicking a ball'.

Until last year, I was a National Football League (NFL) Special Teams coach for 13 years. I have coached and consulted some of the greatest kickers and punters in NFL history including 17 Pro Bowlers. Currently, I am a kicking consultant working with some of the top kickers and punters from the college, NFL, and international scene (for more information please go to www.coachzauner.com).

I would also like you to know the idea of ‘kicking a ball’ as an Olympic sport did not come to me as a whim. I have been mulling this idea over for some time now. However it is only now, as my work allows me to focus my attention more towards the art of kicking (rather than just NFL football), that I am able to spend more time exploring this idea.

The art of ‘kicking a ball’ has been around for thousands of years.

History tells us that during the Ts'in and Han Dynasties (255 BC-220 AD), the Chinese played 'tsu chu', a game in which animal-skin balls were dribbled and kicked through gaps in a net stretched between two poles. In ancient Egypt, some ’religious ceremonies’ included a kicking activity which had similarities to current day football. And in Europe, both the ancient Greeks and Romans played a game that entailed carrying and kicking a ball. The Greeks developed their kicking game around 2000 BC. It was call Episkyros.

On the more macabre side, some legends have it that in mid-evil Europe the people of entire villages would kick a skull along a path to the main square of a nearby village. The opposing village would in turn attempt to kick the skull to the first village's square. I am not sure how these games ended, or how they replaced their 'skulls' once a skull became unusable, but this example again points to the fact that 'kicking a ball' (or something of a similar nature) has existed in many cultures throughout the world and throughout history.

And the activity of ‘kicking a ball’ has continued into modern times.

Soccer, Australian rules football, American football, Canadian football, Gaelic football and rugby are some of the modern days sports in which the activity of 'kicking a ball’ is an integral part of the game. These sports are participated in by tens of thousands of athletes (both professional and amateur) and viewed by hundreds of millions (perhaps over a billion) of fans each year.

In fact, it would be hard to find any modern day sport which has more athletes or fans then the sports in which 'kicking a ball' is a key part of the game. Therefore, it is both curious, and I think unfortunate, there is no sport in the Olympics which specifically represents the art of 'kicking a ball’.

As someone who has his roots in American football there is no question that I would love to see it included as an Olympic sport one day. However, I realize American football will most likely need the same international participation and popularity soccer has before that happens. And I want to be perfectly clear, adding American football to the Olympics is not what I am requesting of the IOC.

My request to the IOC stems directly from the fact that ‘kicking a ball’ is simply the most wide spread sports activity in the world. And when you realize this, it only makes sense the skill of 'kicking a ball', in its purest form, becomes an Olympic sports event.

I have to admit, I’m not sure how an Olympic event would be built around ‘kicking a ball’. But I do have a few ideas that could, and should be explored.

This event could start as an individual event and then be developed into a team competition. It could include kicking one type of ball (soccer, football or rugby) or a combination of these balls. Or, perhaps a new 'universal' ball would be designed specifically for this event.

However, the type of ball used is only one of the factors key to this discussion.

What is at the foundation of my request is to create an event that highlights the skills related to kicking a ball, such as distance and accuracy. These are the same skills currently used in Olympic track & field events such as the javelin, discus and hammer throw, and the shot put.

What kind of ball is used, or whether it is an individual or team sport are just a few of the issues to be considered. No doubt more ideas will arise as this is discussed in greater detail.

I’m sure it is not easy to add sport to the Olympics, but when you consider how popular the art of ‘kicking a ball’ is as a global sports activity, it is clear the IOC needs to take this idea into serious consideration.

I appreciate the time you have taken to read this letter.

I look forward to your thoughts on my request.

Coach Gary Zauner

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