Penalty shootouts in football. Mental toughness is essential and other top tips for success.

When a penalty shootout is needed to determine the outcome of a hard-fought game, like the nail-biting end to the Euro 2020 tournament between England and Italy, “The likelihood of scoring is around 75 % and for the goalie to save the goal, it’s around 25%. This is the situation – high pressure for the striker”, Daniel Memmert, Executive Head of the Institute of Exercise Training and Sport Informatics at the German Sport University Cologne, tells TalksForTeens.

It’s not always clear which players should take the penalties and even if that seems obvious, it’s not clear which order they should play in. It’s often thought that the best player should go last, and the team should start with the one who is less likely to score. Memmert explains, Any player in a professional team has the motor skills required for a successful kick, but not necessarily the mental toughness".

Some theory suggests that from a psychological point of view, the defenders are the better penalty takers. Perhaps this comes down to there being less pressure on them to score, given that they are not habitually attacking players. But typically, it’s the strikers who take the penalties. “The statistics are quite clear on this matter. That normally the striker does it and he has special technical skills. And so, they do it pretty well”, Memmert tells us.

A penalty kick, being such a highly dramatic event, has attracted much attention from researchers and sports psychologists. The studies show how a variety of psychological variables may influence the outcome - both for the penalty taker and for the goalie.

For instance, the England team wearing a red jersey has been found to be more effective – possibly because red is a strong colour (associated with anger). A left-footed player is advantageous when it comes to penalties, as is having tried and tested pre-performance routines. As Memmert stresses, “One of the most important points is that you can train a penalty. If you practise it repeatedly and you have a good teacher, you can get better. It’s not just luck. It is totally trainable".

Another interesting factor is the effect the celebration after a goal has on the overall outcome. Studies have shown that when the team celebrates as dramatically as possible, the opposing team tends to perform worse in the subsequent shots. Equally, immediately before the penalty shootout begins, any non-verbal dominant behaviour can signal to the opposing team that they seem more submissive, which in turn can influence performance. These small details illustrate just how powerful psychology is, in a high-octane sporting situation.

Choosing the target of the shot in advance and looking at the goalkeeper directly whilst walking backwards to take the run-up, appears to get better results, as does choosing the straightest run-up angle (could be oblique – but should always be straight).

There has been much analysis about Gareth Southgate, the England team and those final moments of the Euro final. How next year’s World Cup pans out for England will reveal all. But in the meantime, Southgate should bear in mind that 30 FIFA World Cup matches have ended on penalties – and the fact is that according to the latest research by Daniel Memmert, all nations perform more or less equally well in those very high-pressure moments.

Suggested Links

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