Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Penalty taking at the World Cup

Now that the World Cup is nearly upon us, the main topic I am asking to comment on from the media is the art of penalty taking. Why, for instance, are England so bad at taking penalties and Germany so good at it?

A lot of commentators will refer to penalties as being a lottery, but it is far less so than many think. Although skill plays an important role in penalty taking, mental approach seems to have a far bigger impact and, in a nutshell, we tend to get what we expect. Germany has developed a cultural belief that they are good at penalties; this then has an impact their attitude when it comes to a penalty shoot out. England, however, has developed a belief that they are no good at penalties and this is also reflected in their attitude when it comes to a shoot out. If you go back to 2006 and the penalty shoot out against Portugal, England should have been delighted to take them to penalties. It was England, after all, who had to finish out the game with only 10 men. However, each one of England's penalty takers looked petrified. They walked from the centre circle looking as if they were on their way to their own execution. At the same time, their team mates were looking down at the ground, shaking their heads. Contrast this with Ronaldo when he went to take his penalty; his head was up, his shoulders thrust backwards as he marched purposefully towards the penalty area. If you watch Fabio Grosso as he walked up to take the penalty that would win the World Cup for Italy, he has a smile on his face. For these two men, taking a penalty is seen as an opportunity not a threat.

Matthew Le Tissier, who had a record of scoring 48 out 49 penalties during his career, believes that his main reason for success was that he loved taking penalties. When you love doing something you tend to focus on what you can do. When you hate doing something, you tend to focus on what you fear may happen. As we tend to get more of what we focus on, it makes sense that a positive penalty taker is far more likely to score.

All the England players need to do, therefore, is learn to love taking penalties. Simple!