"Football Freakonomics": Icing the Kicker

In the second segment of “Football Freakonomics,” Dubner examines the strategy of “icing the kicker,” a fairly recent trend in the NFL where an opposing coach will call a timeout just before a placekicker tries a field goal. The idea is to get inside the kicker’s head, make him nervous by giving him a few extra minutes to think about all the pressure he’s under. But does it work? Are kickers more likely to miss after being iced? The answer might surprise you.

In the first segment of “Football Freakonomics,” Dubner looked at whether momentum is a myth.


HDD

Icing the kicker means trying to get in the kicker's head. So the question isn't 'does it work?'; the questions is 'does it work on this guy?'
Wonder if there's enough of a sample for individual kickers to determine if icing works against some better than others.

Saj

Great topic, interesting answer. But I could have done without the ridiculous video. Your site usually provides great info without wasting a lot of our time, except when you roll out videos like this.

Enter your name...

hahaha, right, but i like videos too, haha.

Mike

Highly unsurprising. You give the kicker more time to set up and the holder more time to find the right spot to place the ball on the ground. The kicker has already been sitting on the bench for ~15-30 minutes. Thinking an additional minute is going to psych him out is ridiculous.

OneLeggedJ

Conspiracy theroy: The networks are behind it. Any chance to stop the game and go to another commercial break! (kidding)... but not really

syskill

The real question is, is it more or less effective than the alternative strategy of "icing the kicker" by handing him a Smirnoff Ice and forcing him to drink it?

S. Glazerman

Let's put the economics back in freakonomics here. The data are observational, which means that comparisons of "iced" kickers' performance to non-iced kicks is confounded by selection bias.

Imagine that all the non-iced kicks were made under conditions where icing would not have made a difference. The actual iced kicks we observed, however, are from situations where the coach thought the kicker was going to exceed typical (non-iced) performance, so he called the TO, which brought the performance back down to "average" completion rates. Under this scenario the true positive icing impact is masked by the downward bias.

What we need is a way to observe kicks where icing was unavailable as an option for some reason that's unrelated to the expected performance of the kicker. Maybe # of timeouts remaining could be used as an instrument.

Nick

Icing the kicker has been around before 2007.

Jim A

I'm disappointed that this segment did not cite any references for its conclusion. There have been several studies of icing the kicker published and the results are mixed. Part of the problem is defining which situations are considered "icing". Often times the defense will call time out long before the kicker even comes on the field in order to stop the clock so more time will be remaining to move into position for a subsequent field goal attempt. It's debatable whether this is truly icing or just only adds noise to the data.

Here are some links to relevant studies:
http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/5605/title/The_Iced_Foot_Effect
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2005/writers/dr_z/01/21/mailbag.z/index.html
http://skepticalsports.com/?p=791
http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2010/aug/10/grusd-says-icing-causes-nfl-kicks-miss-field-goals/
http://espn.go.com/blog/nfcwest/post/_/id/5650/ice-try-sizing-up-kickers-in-the-clutch
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704129204575506112194098670.html

Read more...

R

Perhaps another factor in the coach's decision to ice the kicker is that he feels helpless idly watching the opponent about to win the game and tries to intervene in any way that he can. In other words, maybe the coach is a control freak.

Amy Lynette Simmans

I am not certain where to place this but here is my thought. Why not make dropping out of high school illegal without penalty? If a high schooler wants to drop out of high school at 18 or any other age they now in return have to pay back tax payers the 10, 11 years or however many years was spent on that student for public education plus interest or jail. This would be a win win situation for all. This means they can not fail out either or they will owe. Also, why are there not real life skills taught in 10th grade...we teach them to drive cars and get jobs but NOT how to manage credit. Why are they not taking economics in early high school? Curiouser and curiouser.

Amy Lynette Simmans

I apologize for the misplacement of my ponder...sorry football fans...ready for bed and needed to vent that. It seems to me the simplest solution to be problems incompassed by "dropping out". Retribution, social responsibility, personal responsibility, driving the economy by a huge penalty if failing to do what we know must be done...finishing an education...with the possibility of at anytime...going back for more...and further...locking up those that mostly may inevitably end up there to begin with but before they have the opportunity to hurt others. Just thinking. Isn't the economy doing better in direct relation to higher education...ding ding ding.

Enter your name...

Yes, your comment is misplaced... but it also suggests that you don't know any actual people who have dropped out of high school. Perhaps when you're older and have more experience, you'll have more compassion for the kids who quit school because the only alternative they think they have is continuing to live in a home where their mom's boyfriends rape them regularly, or their drunken fathers beat them, or their drug-addled, mentally ill mothers scream at them around the clock.

You might also discover that some "high school drop outs" are kids who are dropping out of high school to start college early. I've met several such high-achieving "drop outs".

Emily

How about summarizing in text what the results are, instead of making us watch a video? This is reminiscent of local news casts teasing viewers into watching their news: "A common household item is a deadly risk for your children and pets- find out more at our 11pm newcast!" Or at least setting up a way of ignoring posts that require a video to actually find out what the information is.

DK1

It's at the point where it's so expected that an "icing" timeout will be called, I doubt it really affects most kickers anymore. I would love to see a coach not call a timeout in an obvious icing situation. The element of surprise might be enough to throw the kicker off kilter (since he's not really expecting to attempt a kick until after the timeout.

caleb b

I like the strategy of pretending that you are going to ice the kicker, but then letting him actually kick it. He might to be ready because he thinks you are going to call a timeout.

I also think that teams don't use the fake spike or fake kneel enough. How many times has a team taken a knee right before half and the defense isn't ready at all. Run a play!

(but let the refs know in advance that you might do that, because they might blow the play dead anyway, that happened to Texas Tech a few years ago).

David

Watching your video, there is a different question going through my mind. In a league that is 70% black, where are the black kickers?

Jessy

I think if you have the timeouts and a few seconds left on the clock then by all means, use them to ice the kicker. You have nothing to lose at that point. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Could be more superstition then anything, but when it works, it works :)

Analyst109

Icing the kicker simply put an act of desperation. Just like thousands of Americans fall for the scams concerning the health benefits of various herbal medications when they are ill, the coaches will try anything when that single kick means loosing the game. Even if it were proven that it makes no difference, what else does the defending team have to do at that moment? Nada!

I did talk to a coach once who told me that he was hoping that the wind would change direction during the time out--good luck with that.

Derp

Why does this video pretend icing the kicker just began in 2007?