Taking the perfect penalty
The ref’s pointed to the spot and the pressure is on….Blast it or place it? Wait for the keeper to move? Or pick a spot and stick to it?
1. Placement. A kick placed right in the top corner will score every time – the keeper won’t have time to react to it. But it’s very difficult, so a bit of a gamble. If you shoot closer to the keeper you have more chance of hitting the target, but you give the keeper a better chance of saving it. So what do you do? A lot of professionals seem to favour the low, hard shot into the bottom corner. The keeper can still reach it, but its an easier shot to pull off. When the nerves are really shaking though, sometimes its better to blast it as hard as you can and hope the keeper goes the wrong way!
2. Practice. The more practice kicks you take, the more your actions become automatic. You don’t know it, but your body builds up unconscious memories of how to react. Its called “muscle memory”, a sort of auto-pilot. These memories can take over when your thinking starts to fail under the pressure. So, the more you practice, the less you’ll have to think about striking the ball.
3. Make up your mind. Unless you’re the super-confident type who can wait till the last moment to see where the goalkeeper moves, don’t think too much. Choose what you’re going to do, and don’t change your mind during your run-up!
4. Be Confident. Holding your nerve is just as important as skill or good contact on the ball when it comes to netting the perfect penalty kick.
Saving penalty kicks
1. Do your homework. Try to find out who the opposing team’s penalty taker is, and which side he/she likes to put them. As a guide, right-footed players will often hit to your left and left-footers to your right, but nothing is certain.
2. Trust your instincts. Anything about the striker’s run-up, body shape or eye direction can give you a hint as to where the kick is going. So, even if you know they usually go a certain direction, you can change your mind if that’s what your instinct says.
3. Dive. Occasionally, a striker will blast the penalty straight down the middle, so you might be tempted to just stand still. This is very risky, as most penalties will go one side or the other. At least if you pick a side and dive, you might still save it with your legs!
4. Relax. The pressure is all on the striker, because everyone expects them to score. Some goalkeepers try to increase the pressure on their opponent by delaying the taking of the kick, or by advancing off their goal-line. This will certainly disturb their concentration, but may also land you with a yellow card! So, concentrate on the job, and remember that sometimes you’ll just have to accept that a perfectly placed penalty is impossible to save.