WESTERN Bulldogs youngster Clay Smith believes the hours he has spent working on his kicking over summer will help him become an even more damaging player in 2013.
The 19-year-old midfielder from Gippsland has already developed a reputation as one of the toughest competitors at the Bulldogs, but his foot skills have held him back at times.
"It's been a focus of mine for the past three or four years, and I'm really making some good improvements now," Smith told AFL.com.au.
"I don't think it's a major weakness, but it's an area that I need to improve on to get to the next level."
Smith has worked closely with a number of the Bulldogs' development coaches, including Rohan Smith, a man who was renowned as one of the best kicks in the AFL during his 300-game career.
"When we finish training, I always come in and do a fair bit," Smith said. "I practise coming back off the line and hitting targets in front of me and off to the side.
"I do a lot of stationary work as well – practising my ball-drop when I'm not on the move, and stuff like that.
"I'm feeling more comfortable with my kicking. It's about making sure I concentrate and get the ball-drop right and have confidence to hit my kicks.
"Sometimes I lose confidence and that's when you poke at it and miss your targets, so it's about backing myself."
Former West Coast forward Ashley Hansen, who joined the Bulldogs late last year, is among the development coaches who have been guiding Smith in his effort to improve his kicking.
"It takes me back to watching Chris Judd when he first got to the Eagles," Hansen said.
"Chris wasn't a great kick when he came to West Coast, and that was probably the biggest knock the critics of the game had on him.
"He did an amazing amount of hours, even away from the footy club, on his kicking, and he really turned it around.
"We think kicking is the one thing that we can really change and influence with the right technique, the right feedback [and the] the right skill sessions.
"The mental attitude, the appetite for work and to get to a contest, is harder to change.
"That's Clay Smith's greatest weapon, so once we've got the kicking right he'll be a package that is pretty special."
Taken by the Bulldogs with pick 17 in the 2011 NAB AFL Draft, Smith shot to prominence when he kicked four goals on debut against West Coast in round one last year.
A strongly built midfielder, who has bulked up 5kg to 83kg since joining the club, Smith played 15 senior games during 2012, winning plaudits from both the club's coaches and supporters.
"I heard a bit about Clay before I got here, and I've just been really impressed by his work ethic," Hansen said.
"There's no doubt that one of his weapons is his hardness and his mental aptitude for the contest and what he wants to do.
"He's just really hungry to improve and ready to make himself better every day, which is a real compliment to a young guy, because some guys can lose their focus.
"He's definitely been a role model for our first-year players to come in and see how quickly you can adapt to what's required in the AFL.
"If he can continue to work on the areas that we want him to work on, then he can become a very good player in the AFL for a long period of time."
Adam McNicol covers Western Bulldogs news for AFL.com.au. Follow him on Twitter at @AFL_AdamMcNicol