Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

'Playing the fool' key to penalties

The best way for players to score penalties during the world cup is to 'play the fool', according to a sport expert
The best way for players to score penalties during the world cup is to 'play the fool', according to a sport expert
Italy's Andrea Pirlo scores a penalty in a shootout

A sport expert has claimed the best way for players to score penalties during the world cup is to "play the fool".

Some sports scientists have suggested that penalty takers who wear red shirts stand a better chance of scoring, while others recommend they stare at goalkeepers after placing the ball to unnerve them, a University of Brighton spokesman said.

But Dr Nick Smeeton, principal lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology, said he believes the best way for penalty takers to regain their edge is by using fake moves and tricks.

He said: "It's harder for penalty takers these days because international goalkeepers are trained to such a high level and practice penalty saves so much.

"They have analysts calculating takers' favourite targets and trainers teaching them to watch the takers' body language to read where the ball is going."

Mr Smeeton said some sports scientists insisted that aiming high would give shooters the best chance, but the university's research suggested they should play the fool.

He continued: "Most people remember the Pirlo chip for Italy against England in Euro 2012, and some will recall Italy's Balotelli pausing just before his kick or his countryman Nocerino's feint to England's Joe Hart's left before shooting the other way.

"It is these little moves that I believe are essential if kickers want to maximise their chances of scoring. Outstanding players like Balotelli know and exploit this.

"I predict that any trained professional using this strategy will score and you will see far more penalties scored in the World Cup using this strategy than one based on power or placement."

Mr Smeeton believes the strategy is so effective because deceptive penalty kicks cause goalkeepers to think in a different way.

He said: "The goalkeeper notices something is amiss and switches off the autopilot that is normally in control of their brain and body. Meanwhile, the kicker takes advantage."

His view is based on his research, published in the British Journal of Psychology, into the psychology of how skilled and less skilled goalkeepers anticipate the direction a ball will be kicked.

He said: "We measured how accurately these goalkeepers were in reading kickers' shot direction and how confident they were in their decision.

"Confidence ratings are important because they can be used to give us an idea about how conscious a decision is; conscious decisions are often made slowly, which is not desirable in a penalty shootout.

"We found evidence to suggest that goalkeepers' decisions were in fact made more consciously when facing deceptive kicks, compared to normal kicks.

"This result was also found for easy-to-read kicks, which suggested to us that exaggeration in both the deceptive and easy to read kicks was fooling the goalkeepers into making more conscious decisions.

"From the kickers' perspective, this deception may increase their chances of scoring."

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