England v Germany: Sports psychologist reveals the secret to penalty shoot-out success

England won their last penalty shoot-out against Colombia in the 2018 World CupEngland won their last penalty shoot-out against Colombia in the 2018 World Cup
England won their last penalty shoot-out against Colombia in the 2018 World Cup

By Brian Ellis

It is a phrase that strikes dread into the heart of any England supporter - the penalty shoot-out.

And as Gareth Southgate’s side tackle Germany in the Euros at Wembley this evening, the fear of another 12-yard misfire will be hauntingly close.

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England have lost six out of eight shoot-outs at major championships, two of them to the Germans.

So how do the Class of 2020/21 cast off the hoodoo which, since 1990, has broken so many hearts and prevented football coming home?

The secret, according to a sports psychologist, is take your time, don’t rush it, focus on where you are going to hit the ball and don’t look straight at the goalkeeper.

And if you are a keeper, stand ever-so-slightly to one side. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

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“The time you take preparing to take a penalty seems to be important,” said Jamie Taylor, who works at the University of Central Lancashire.

“There is an awful lot of pressure on a penalty kick and that increases the chances of you over-thinking it and can lead to a performance breakdown.

“There was a Dutchman who looked at all of England’s penalty shoot-outs and also at Spain who had a poor record too.

"He found that with teams that had very high profile players from very high profile clubs, with a heightened level of expectation, there was a tendency for those teams not to perform as well in shoot-outs as teams regarded as minnows where expectation levels were lower.

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“Players from those top teams tended to rush their penalties more and didn’t take the same time to prepare, which led to them missing more of their shots.

“In hundreds of games analysed it became clear that when a penalty taker focuses on the keeper there is a greater likelihood of him hitting it closer to the keeper and it being saved.

“Also the keeper’s behaviour matters too. If he distracts the penalty taker in some way by moving about then that can lead to more being saved. Remember Bruce Grobbelaar in the European Cup Final.

"And if he stands ever-so slightly to one side - so slightly that it is hardly noticeable - that can unconsciously lead the taker to shoot that way. The probability is the player will go for the bigger side.

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“It’s a very interesting subject looking at the psychology behind penalty shoot-outs. We talk about there being heightened levels of stress or anxiety, or players choking under pressure in high profile situations.

"We ask why do England keep losing them? Well England have had sports psychologists working with them for years now, so Gareth will be fully aware of all this.

"They will have prepared for it. The probability of a team having to go into a penalty shoot-out at a major tournament is now about 50 per cent if they progress to the final stages.”

So is Jamie confident that England’s players will be up to the task should penalties come along tonight, especially against bogey team Germany?

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“The Germans have got the history on their side and tend to be extremely clinical in these situations.

“But if I was Gareth I’d be getting them to reflect that they were successful in their last shoot-out and focus on that.”

This article was originally published on our sister title, the LEP