Saturday, February 17, 2007

Penalty Shots: How goalkeepers can increase their odds

Like kickers in American football and coxies in rowing, soccer goalies fit into a subculture within a sport.

So when the March issue of Psychological Science appeared with the intriguingly titled, "Imperceptibly Off-Center Goalkeepers Influence Penalty-Kick Direction in Soccer" by R.S.W. Masters, J. van der Kamp, and R.C. Jackson, In The Fray was excited to finally find out the psychological makeup of goal-minders. Alas, "imperceptibly off-center" has nothing to do with being "a little off," rather it is a reference to where the goalie stands on a penalty shot.

Here's the crux of the study: when a goalie lines up for a penalty shot, he is usually "imperceptibly" off to one or the other side by nine or so centimeters. The penalty taker senses the slightly larger open area and usually shoots to that larger space and scores. (Only 18 percent of penalty kicks are saved.) Goal minders, however, don't really realize they are standing to one side or the other--of 190 penalty shots in World Cups, African Nations Cups, European Championships, and UEFA Champions League matches, the goalie actually dove to the smaller area 94 times so "the displacement was not purposeful strategy," according to the authors of the paper. So here is what goalies should do to get a little advantage: stand a little to one side (six to 10 cms is enough) and dive to the larger space because that is where kickers are at least 10 percent more likely to direct the penalty kick.


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