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How to score a penalty

This is it. Your big moment. Score a penalty, and you will be bathed in a kind of glory you have only ever imagined. Miss, and you might never play again…

Score a penalty

The penalty shootout. The basis of many a sporting discussion, particularly in the world of football. Why is it that our male footballers have such issues with penalty shootouts in big tournaments?

I had thought that this ‘penalty curse’ was just a myth, but no – England have lost 6 out of 7 of their last shootouts in major tournaments with a winning rate of just 14%.

Not good then. If we compare that those around us: France are up at 50% having won 3 and lost 3, Spain also have a 50-50 chance of winning and of course the Germans are near the top with an impressive 83% win rate with 5 wins and only 1 loss.

So why is this? Surely it’s not just bad luck which means that England seemingly can’t get it together when it comes to penalties…

Seemingly no. Unsurprisingly there have been numerous studies in this area and there is one residing element which seems to overshadow England players when they face a penalty shootout: fear of failure.

That might sound obvious to some – of course they don’t want to miss – who would?! This is the crucial difference – England players don’t want to miss; other countries’ players want to score.

This might simply sound like a difference in language which should have little impact on actual performance. However, this small difference can have huge ramifications when it comes to your brain.

In simple terms, your brain generally does not comprehend the word ‘don’t’. For example, if I said to you “don’t think about a white polar bear” – chances are you’re now thinking of one.

Similarly, if you are a footballer and you go to the spot thinking ‘don’t miss’ or ‘don’t sky this’ or ‘don’t hit it straight at the keeper’ – you are much MUCH more likely to do exactly that.

This is something which is relevant to everyone, whatever level you play at and in whatever sport. Keep your thoughts on what you DO want to do, rather than what you want to avoid. Another classic example is in golf – if you tell yourself ‘just don’t hit it in the water’ – I can almost guarantee that’s where the ball will end up!

Linked to this fear of failure is a second characteristic of English penalty takers, known as ‘hastening and hiding’.

Firstly, research suggests that the more you rush a penalty (specifically the shorter the time between the referee’s signal and starting your run up), the less likely you are to score. And guess what – England are rushers!

It has been suggested that this is due to being so under pressure and so afraid of failing that it just becomes too uncomfortable and they want to get it out the way as quickly as possible. Not conducive to an effective penalty shot.

Secondly hiding; here, research shows that if you walk backwards away from the ball and remain facing the goalkeeper you are more likely to score. England? They walk away with their backs to the goalkeeper.

Facing the goalie gives the impression of confidence – and that’s going to make the goalie nervous. Although this is more football specific, giving the impression of being confident in any high pressure situation (even if you don’t feel it inside), is likely to give you an edge over your opponent.

So there you have it – focus on what you DO want to do (rather than what you don’t want to do) and act confident! Now someone just needs to tell the England boys so we don’t see history repeat itself in Russia (if we get there…).

For more information and support follow Suzie Monk on Twitter MonkSportPsych