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4 ways sport psychology can boost penalty success

4 ways sport psychology can boost penalty success

4 min read
  • Sport psychology

A penalty shootout in football is like no other sporting event. It’s filled with intense emotions, feelings of joy that can easily be replaced by misery, often because of the smallest of differences.

So, what causes these small variations, and how can you use them to your advantage?

Well, a recent study observed differences from nonverbal behaviours and body language when taking penalty shots, and understanding them may maximise your chances of scoring…

1. Your body language during penalty shootouts

Let’s start with body language – the way you look when you prepare to shoot. Surprisingly, while it may only play a small part, it can actually increase your penalty success.

Eyes on the prize

  • Looking forward at the goal can increase your likelihood to be successful when taking a penalty.
  • As it is seen as more negative, goalkeepers tend to expect you to underperform if you look away from the goal area when preparing for your kick.

Act like a hero

  • Good body posture can help improve your penalty success.
  • Being hunched over and looking down at the floor however resulted in more unsuccessful penalties.

2. Your self-talk

Your exterior image isn’t everything – what happens in your head matters as well in penalty shootouts.

Mastering the way you talk to yourself can help you to pay attention to the right thing as well as visualise the actions you’ll need to take to shoot successfully. It also allows you to calm down any nerves you may have and increase your confidence levels.

Here are two tips to talk to yourself in a more helpful way:

  • Tell yourself what to do. This helps you pay attention on those areas that matter as well as be more successful under pressure.
  • Use positive, energised language. This can motivate you to perform to your best as well as help you to control your thoughts and block out other disturbing factors such as crowds or the opposition.
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3. Confidence is key

Confidence will help you perform better and with more assurance. Easier said than done? Here’s how to use your past, present and future to make you feel more confident as you approach the goal.

Use your past

  • Referring to performances that you were successful in is a great tool to use in a high-pressure situation like penalties.
  • Seeking into the past can help to regain concentration as well as boost your self-esteem and to believe in your own abilities.
  • Remembering your preparation and what you’ve learnt from previous penalty shootouts will help you realise you’re ready for anything you come up against.

Use your present

  • You may face the goalkeeper alone, but you have a whole support system cheering you on, as well as teammates and mentor who have been successful in similar situations. Use them for support and advice to help boost your abilities.
  • This is also where your self-talk comes into play.

Use your future

  • Picture yourself being successful when taking a penalty, and make the effort to visualise the behaviours and motions that will get you there. This can help increase your self-esteem within those movements.
  • Understand that the setbacks you have encountered ultimately have given you a lesson to learn and improve upon – the penalty you’re about to take will make the next one even better.

4. Control your emotions

Being able to control those different emotions of excitement and fear are crucial to success and can help to maximise your performance levels. So, in what crucial ways can we control our emotions during a penalty?

Control the controllables

Assess your thoughts and behaviours and make the choice to focus on the task at hand and what you can do to control it. For example, focusing on where you want to place your pen rather than the opposite team’s fans in the stand can help improve your success rate.

Reframe the situation

Try and change the way you view a penalty shootout, moving away from seeing it as a threat and more as a challenge to overcome or an opportunity to rise to. This can help keep you in a positive and competitive frame of mind.

Take deep breaths

Being able to lower your heart rate can help you maintain control of your body and mind and keep in a relaxed focus state.

Practice makes perfect

Having a routine before taking your pen can help centre your focus on exactly what you want to achieve. This is because:

  • It can help you to not think about the negatives or distracting thoughts.
  • It can improve your confidence as you know what you are wanting to achieve in advance of your penalty.

Final thoughts

While physical training and practice is a very important part of penalty success, an awareness of your body language, thoughts and behaviours can be the small difference that makes you the hero of the penalty shootout.

Incorporating these helpful tips will see you thrive when it comes down to taking a pen and block out any negative perceptions you may have had.


About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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