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How to Improve Your Chances of Making A Penalty Kick in Soccer


OPTI Soccer Science:

Temporal links to Performing Under Pressure in International Soccer Penalty Shootout

We all know how much pressure there is during a penalty shootout.  Avoiding the stress and anxiety during a penalty kick (PK) is impossible.  It can be over-whelming and can affect even the best soccer players in the world. A study published in Psychology of Sport & Exercise looked at the temporal (time) characteristics of performing under pressure in real-world soccer penalty shootouts that lead to scoring or missing a goal.  According to this study, there are certain commonalities of people that score their penalties vs. the people who miss.

Videos were obtained from all penalty shootouts ever held in three major international soccer tournaments (World Cup, European Championships, and UEFA Champions League). In these events, 296 players performed 366 penalty kicks. The time periods that were analyzed in relation to shot outcomes were: walking, ball placement, back-up, signal waiting, signal response, and run-up.

Results show that players who took more time after the referee’s whistle to take their shot tend to score more frequently while players who take less time.  A similar but weaker trend was found with ball placement.  The researchers found that players who took their time placing the ball tend to score more than players who rush this act.  However, when investigating the time it took the referee to blow their whistle after the ball is placed, there were more goals scored when this time lapse was shorter vs. longer.

The author concludes that shorter self-imposed times were linked to worse performance than longer times. Plausible reasons for this result may be the extreme levels of pressure that are induced by major penalty shootouts, causing performers to attempt escaping the emotional distress by getting the situation “over with” as soon as possible. These results are consistent with a model of choking as a case of self-regulatory breakdown.

OPTI’s advice:

Take your time with your PK. Breathe. Make sure the ball is sitting how you like it. Once the referee blows the whistle, take another deep breath and focus. Don’t rush. According to science, you’ll have a better chance of converting your kick.

Jordet, G., Hartman, E. & Sigmundstad, E. (2009). Temporal links to performing under pressure in international soccer penalty shoot-outs. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 10, 621–627.

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