How to increase the probability of scoring in penalties shoot-outs
12 Apr 2022   ·   

Traditionally, it’s been said that penalty shoot-outs are a lottery. From this perspective, luck seems to be the only factor to consider. However, statistics and science have revealed some data that could be very useful for increasing the probability of scoring a penalty.

  1. Penalties are frequent in football. In the 2020-2021 season, 141 penalties were shot in LaLiga. That means that in 1 of every 3 games there is a maximum punishment.  In the last UEFA Euro in 2020, 4 of the final play-offs were solved with penalty shoot-outs. Even the Final ended in that way. (1-3)
  2. 75% of the times penalties are scored, or putting the same in a different way, 1 in 4 shots is missed. (1-3)
  3. Celebrating penalties enthusiastically reduces a rival’s success. If a team scores a penalty, it is better to celebrate it with passion. In elimination tournaments, the opponent has more chances to miss the following shot if the team who scored before celebrates enthusiastically. It seems that this reaction could psychologically affect the taker and it presupposes an additional pressure to score. It will also work if the goalkeeper stops a penalty and celebrates it passionately. (5-6)
  4. It is better to kick first in shoot-outs. The team that kicks first in penalty shoot-outs as leverage. Some studies suggest that scoring the first goal allows winning between 53% and 60% of the shoot-outs. (3)
  5. Rushing the shot can lead to missed shots. The player’s urge to rush the preparation of the ball and perform the kick could be negative. Players who wait for a second or more after the referee signal score 81% of the time, while the ones who rush only score 57% of the time. Having a shot routine seems key to reducing errors. (1-4-5)
  6. It is easier to shoot for winning than for not losing.  Taker’s success percentages whose penalty meant an immediate victory rises up to 92%. However, only 62% of decisive penalties to avoid immediate defeat are scored. It seems that anxiety (for example rushing to shoot) could suggest an escape behavior on part of the player who is trying to put an end to the situation as soon as possible. (1-4-5-7)
  7. Feeling that the taker has control improves their performance.  Players who consider penalties a lottery have higher probabilities of missing the shot compared to the ones who believe they have control over the result of the shot. (1-4-5-8)
  8. As penalty shoot-outs move forward, pressure and miss increase. The first shot usually has 90% of success. The third, fourth and fifth are below 80%.  From the sixth shot onwards, scoring doesn’t reach 70%. (1-3-4-5-8)
  9. The order of takers is important. The best specialists should shoot the first and fifth penalty. Scoring the first penalty increases the probability of winning. The last shot is the riskier one. (1-4-5-7-8)
  10. The stars are not the most reliable to shoot. It has been found that after receiving an individual prize, players score 65% of their penalties instead of the previous 80%. (1-3-4)
  11. Goalkeeper movements could distract the taker and reduce effectiveness. Also what goalkeepers do before the penalty shot could contribute to reducing the effectiveness of the taker. (8-9)

It seems that in the penalty shoot-out that defined the last UEFA Euro, Chiellini resorted to ‘Kiricocho’ every time an English player shot. Maybe the curse of the legend of Estudiantes of Bilardo was on the Italian side. But for sure it’s better to also have scientific evidence on our side, and train ourselves using it.

2) Palacios-Huerta, I (2003). Professionals play minimax. The Review of Economic Studies 70 (2), 395-415
3) Jordet, G. (2009). Why do English players fail in soccer penalty shootouts? A study of team status, self-regulation, and choking under pressure. Journal of Sports Sciences, 27, 97–106. 
4) Jordet, G., & Hartman, E. (2008). Avoidance motivation and choking under pressure in soccer penalty shootouts. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 30, 450–457
5) Memmert, D., Hüttermann, S., Hagemann, N., Loffing, F., & Strauß, B. (2013). Dueling in the penalty box: Evidence-based recommendations on how shooters and goalkeepers can win penalty shootouts in soccer. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 6, 209–229.
6) Moll, T., Jordet, G., & Pepping, G.J. (2010). Emotional contagion in soccer penalty shootouts: Celebration of individual success is associated with ultimate team success. Journal of Sports Sciences, 28, 983–992.
7) Wood, G., & Wilson, M. R. (2010). A moving goalkeeper distracts penalty takers and impairs shooting accuracy. Journal of Sports Sciences, 28, 937–946. 
8) Wood, G., & Wilson, M. R. (2010b). Gaze behavior and shooting strategies in football penalty kick: Implications of a ‘keeper-dependent approach. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 41, 293–312.


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