Shoot-outs should be abolished
Sports psychologist Gary Leboff reflects on another penalty shoot-out defeat for England and welcomes talk of a different way to settle knockout matches...
So England exit a major tournament on penalties once again. That the spot kicks would go Italy's way was no surprise to anyone who bothered studying the form guide.
Leading up to the last World Cup, I spent some time in the company of Sven Goran Eriksson. Before long, the conversation turned to England's ineptitude from the spot, at which point Sven produced a truly alarming league table. This table ranked national sides in order of penalty taking ability. Propping up the entire ladder – literally at the bottom of the table – were England.
Penalty kicks have little to do with ability. Cristiano Ronaldo missed one in the Champions League semi-final for Real Madrid against Bayern Munich. Lionel Messi not only did likewise against Chelsea, but also missed a last minute pen in a league game against Sevilla that ultimately had a major bearing on the destiny of La Liga.
For a sports psychologist, this is fertile ground. In training, everyone scores virtually without fail from 12 yards. What does the damage in the crucible of a European Championship quarter-final are the thoughts that go through a players' mind during the lonely walk from the centre circle to the goalmouth.
To get around the problem, I constructed a routine for Premier League squads. The aim of the routine is to keep thought firmly to a minimum.
Before taking a spot kick, each player has to NOMINATE three specific elements (out of the keeper's easrshot): a) whether they will use the right or left foot, b) are they going to the keeper’s right or left? c) place or blast. Changing your mind counts as a miss.
If you run a kids' team or fancy having a go with your mates, give it a try. The evidence is compelling: if you think, you stink. Deciding in advance how a penalty will be taken is the best way of ensuring success.
Meanwhile, did you notice that Italy were first to miss on Sunday night yet still went on to win? Perhaps you recall Chelsea doing exactly the same in the Champions League final?
This was no coincidence. Those respective misses heaped a ton of pressure on their opponents. With victory there for the taking, all England and Bayern had to do was put their remaining spot kicks away. A situation that was already loaded with significance became yet more loaded still.
And so the stage is set for the most toxic of all human emotions – shame. Such is the shame of failing to convert a kick from 12 yards (a skill that any professional footballer would expect to execute), they may never live it down and so end up making pizza adverts.
Spot-kick deciders may not be with us for much longer. FIFA recently appointed Franz Beckenbauer to head up a committee charged with seeking a less tortuous method for deciding big matches. For once (and this is rare), I’m on FIFA’s side. Penalty kicks are football’s answer to a hanging. They may provide a few moments of entertainment but the damage it can cause to a player's psyche takes a good deal longer to repair.
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