How to win at penalties '“ spot-kick expert's top 10 tips

The man who wrote the book on penalties has 10 top tips for succeeding from the spot.

Monday, 4th July 2016, 1:12 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 6:10 pm
EURO 2016 -- a personal take on the tournament so far, warts and all.

England managed to avoid a shootout defeat at a major tournament this summer, instead falling to a 2-1 loss to Iceland in the European Championship knockout stages.

But ahead of the Euro 2016 semi-finals, Ben Lyttleton told MBNA how to excel when a game goes all the way to spot-kicks.

The author of ‘Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty’, gives the following advice.

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1. Win the toss and kick first

“The team that kicks first is 60% more likely to go on to win the shoot-out - in part because the conversion rate for penalties taken ‘to stay in the shoot-out’ drops to 62% in major tournaments,

while the conversion rate for penalties taken to win the shoot-out rises to 92%. It shows the difference between thinking about positive, as opposed to negative, consequences when taking a


2. Don’t put your best player last

“You don’t want to lose the shoot-out before your best kicker gets a shot at the goal, which might happen if he is placed fifth. Studies that assigned an ‘importance variable’ to each penalty show the

first and fourth penalties have the most significance in terms of affecting the outcome so getting the order right is vital.”

3. Wait for the goalkeeper to move first

“Across a number of penalty examples over a long period of time, the numbers show this method is a more successful strategy than blasting the ball regardless of where the goalkeeper goes – though

technically it’s harder to pull off.”

4. Make the kicker wait…

“Studies show that if a goalkeeper makes a penalty taker wait for between 1.7 to 4.5 seconds before the referee blows his whistle, penalty conversion rates drop to 61% in major tournaments.”

5. Player status doesn’t matter

“Soccer superstars Roberto Baggio, Michel Platini, Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona, David Beckham, and Cristiano Ronaldo have all missed big penalties at the peak of their careers. Studies have shown

that players of ‘high status’ have a worse record in penalties than players who are merely ‘part of the team’. The pressure on these players is greater, and they have more to lose if they miss.”

6. Scoring the last goal helps

“Momentum plays a big part in the shoot-out, as the team that scored last in the game has a 62% chance of going on to win on penalties.”

7. Body language matters

“Studies show if a player is successful when the scores are level, and he celebrates with both arms extended out, his team is 82% more likely to go on and win the shoot-out.”

8. Don’t rush it

“Based on analysis of reaction times from the referee blowing his whistle to the player beginning his run-up, England players waited an average 0.28 seconds before starting their approach. This is

quicker than any other nation, and not far off Usain Bolt, whose average reaction time to the starting gun is 0.17 seconds. Waiting just one second can make a big difference.”

9. Don’t overthink it on the walk

“Overthinking a task can lead to a negative result, so players need to have a strategy for what to think about on the dreaded walk to the spot. Focusing on the process - the routine of execution -

rather than the outcome is a good start.”

10. Goalkeepers can stay central

“Nearly 30% of all penalties go down the middle of the goal, but goalkeepers only stay central 6% of the time. One international goalkeeper, who will be in action at Euro 2016, told me he dives for

penalties as otherwise it looks like he’s not trying.”