Home > Behavioural Economics, Sport > Avoid the Germans in a Penalty Shootout

Avoid the Germans in a Penalty Shootout

A particular interest of mine is game theory and penalty shootouts – see Game Theory Lesson: Man Utd v Chelsea Penalty Shootout. This involves studying the alternative strategies a person may choose to adopt depending on their assumptions about their rivals’ behaviour. The most significant research into penalty kicks has been done by Steven Levitt (co-author of Freakanomics) who co-authored a paper on mixed strategies when players are diverse in their decision making and studied 459 penalties in the Spanish and Italian leagues. Another economist Ignacio Palacios-Huerta analysed 1417 penalty kicks from several European countries during the period 1995-2000.

Approaching the business end of the Football World Cup and you have to have some sympathy for the Costa Ricans who celebrated after extra-time with the scores being tied – assuming that this was their plan from the commencement of the game and that they fancied their chances in the shootout. However why do some teams do better at penalty shootouts than others? The Economist looked at this recently and came up with the following:

1. Defeat is habit forming – players who miss regularly become fatalistic
2. Countries that are collectivist in nature rather than individualistic do much better – mindful of their public image
3. Research shows that star players tend to miss more than your average player – they feel the pressure
4. Who goes first is important as players are far more likely to miss a penalty if it to stay in the contest rather than one that will win it. The majority of the time the team going first wins the shootout.

Below is a chart from The Economist which shows that England have struggled at this part of the game but the Germans, as you would expect, are very efficient. As for the Czech Republic they have yet to miss a penalty.

Penalty Shootout stats

Psychological Preparation for Penalty Shootouts – Academic Paper

A recent piece of research from the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences addresses how you should prepare for Penalty Shootouts.

Players who take less than one second to place the ball on the penalty spot score on about 58% of their penalties whereas those who take longer score on about 80% of their penalties (Jordet et al., 2009).

Similarly, taking about a second or more to respond to the referee’s whistle to initiate the shot is associated with a higher probability of scoring than immediately rushing towards the ball (Jordet et al., 2009).

Developing and practising a suitable pre-shot routine is a potentially useful way to guide these timings and help protect performance under pressure. Indeed, recent research by Wood and Wilson (2012) has suggested that learning a routine involving a gaze control element (look at the point where you want to shoot prior to the run-up) helped penalty takers in a shootout task to be more accurate, maintain effective visuomotor control and increase perceptions of psychological control and contingency.

In the Shootout:

1. Don’t rush: Place the ball properly on the spot and take a breath while focusing on where you intend to shoot, before starting the run-up. Taking a deep breath is likely to ease feelings of anxiety and provides a temporal cue to ensure that sufficient processing of target-related information is enabled.
2. Trust your technique and routine – pick a spot and hit it.
3. Celebrate! It will help your team-mates who have to take the subsequent penalty kicks.

With the semi-finals coming up you’ve got to fancy the Germans if it goes to a penalty shootout.

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