MINNEAPOLIS — Ask Vikings punter Jeff Locke about his goals, for a season or a game. He doesn’t have any. He takes a season one punt at a time.
It wasn’t always that way for Locke, who in his first three NFL seasons — all with the Vikings — always felt “too much pressure to try to have a perfect game.”
That changed in April.
“I’ve seen a sports psychologist,” Locke said. “She’s helped me a whole lot.”
At least once a week, Locke sees Dr. Cindra Kamphoff, referred to on her website as a “high-performance coach.”
“We call it, ‘One punt at a time,'” Locke said. “You control what you can control. … If I mess up, learn from it, move on, next punt.”
Locke has a career-best net average of 39.7 yards a punt this season, roughly what special teams coordinator Mike Priefer has sought. Last, Locke’s average was a career-low 37.8 yards.
He called Kamphoff’s approached “huge for the mental approach for me.”
“She knows her stuff. She works with multiple other sports,” he said. “… The very first thing we talked (about) was controlling troubles. So, I can control how I set up, how I catch the ball, how I drop the ball and how I swing, and that’s it. So everything else around me doesn’t matter.”
Kamphoff has a Ph.D in sports and performance psychology and is a professor at Minnesota State, Mankato, where she is a founder of the school’s Center of Sport and Performance Psychology. She was not made available for comment.
Kamphoff has done other work for the Vikings and features their logo on her website. There is a quote on the site from Vikings executive director of player development/legal Les Pico.
“Cindra is one of the best in the business,” Pico is quoted as saying. “Her expertise, skill set and ability to connect with people is exceptional.”
In previous seasons, Locke’s performance was scrutinized while Blair Walsh was considered stable as Minnesota’s place-kicker. Those roles have been reversed.
In January, Walsh botched a 27-yard field goal in the waning seconds of a 10-9 playoff loss to Seattle and since has missed four field-goal attempts and three extra points. On Tuesday, the auditioned six kickers before electing to stick with Walsh.
Walsh declined to whether he has seen a sports psychologist. “What goes on in here and what we do behind this walls is something I want to keep private,” he said.
Locke has no problem with discussing how a sports psychologist has helped him.
“There was almost too much pressure to try to have a perfect game, which just puts pressure on you in general,” he said. “It just causes too much stress. So, I’ve learned to change that approach to have a great first punt and then clear it and then have a great second punt and clear it and then just move on from there. That’s really helped me kind of string games together.”
Locke has a gross average of 43.2 yards compared to 41.6 last season, although it must be said the Vikings are playing home games indoors at U.S. Bank Stadium rather than outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium.
Locke, who generally has gotten good hang time and placement on his punts, is tied for second in the NFL with 21 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
Just last summer, Priefer warned that if Locke didn’t have a good training camp, he would face competition for his job.
“He’s just punting the ball better,” said head coach Mike Zimmer. “He’s not perfect, but he’s been able to punt them down in there a lot. … He’s doing what we’re asking him to do.”
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