Decoding the strategies behind penalty shootouts

In football, there are fewer things more suspenseful than a penalty kick, which is especially true when they are used to determine the result of a tied game. This is part of why the 2022 World Cup Final was so exciting, as Argentina and France were tied 3-3, with La Albiceleste winning the penalty shootout 4-2 to secure their world title.

These nerve-wracking moments, which leave players and fans alike on the edge of their seats, require a unique set of skills compared to the rest of the game. Although penalty shootouts are scored the majority of the time (around 80%), there are several different factors which come into play for whether or not a goal will be made when a player steps up to the penalty mark.

Mental toughness

Because the outcome of a penalty shot is largely dependent on the actions of the kicker rather than the goalie, the mindset and confidence that the kicker needs to have is one of the most important factors determining whether or not they will make the goal.

This can be seen in the impact that pressure has on a player. A penalty shot taken during normal time will be scored roughly 85% of the time. This number drops to 76% when taken during a penalty shootout to determine the result of the game.

Even more interestingly, if a player steps up to take a shot that will win their team the game, they will score over 92% of the time. If that same player steps up to score a goal that is needed to prevent their team from losing, they will score less than 60% of the time

The mental toughness that goes into taking a penalty shot, has a major outcome on the likeliness that goal will be scored.

Psychological warfare

It would make sense to think that the best players would have the highest chance to score, however, the opposite is true.

When the star players are taking penalty shots, everyone assumes they will score. This results in fewer people cheering for them when they do score, and much more criticism if they miss.

This kind of psychological effect on players makes a real difference. Teams are often better off using their lesser-known players to take their penalty shots because of it.

The speed at which one takes their shot can also be the difference between scoring or not. When players immediately kick the ball after the whistle blows, they have a higher chance of missing compared to when a player briefly waits before shooting.

Turning your back to the goalkeeper is also a great way to reduce your chance of scoring. This signals to the keeper that the striker is nervous and can interrupt the focus of the player who is taking the shot.

Avoiding staring too long at the goalie is also beneficial for the striker.

Analyzing goalkeeper tendencies

While the outcome of a penalty shot is largely dependent on the actions of the kicker, there is one thing that a goalie can do to increase their chance of saving a shot: stand still.

According to one study analyzing penalties from the Bundesliga, when a goalkeeper stood still, they were nearly twice as likely to save the goal.

One reason many goalies do not do this is because of how the spectators will perceive the goalie. If they dive to one side and do not save the shot, those watching will not blame them for not saving the shot. On the other hand, if they stand still and the other team scores, then they will receive much more blame.

In addition, the colour of the jersey that the goalkeeper is wearing also affects whether the other player will score or not. The fewest goals were scored against keepers wearing red or yellow, and the most goals were scored against keepers wearing blue or green.

Penalty shootouts in football

In football, penalty shootouts are one of the most underrated parts of the sport. They are a captivating aspect of the game that combines skill and strategy. These high-pressure situations involve mental toughness, psychology, and understanding other players’ tendencies to make the most out of these major scoring opportunities.

As the sport has evolved, we now have a much better understanding of what goes into creating the most success when taking a penalty shot. Teams are using what they have learned to practice and study for their penalty shootouts, as they never know when it might be the difference between whether or not they win the next World Cup.

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