The Sport and Exercise Scientist n Issue 38 n Winter 2013 n www.bases.org.uk The Sport and Exercise Scientist n Issue 38 n Winter 2013 n www.bases.org.uk
The BASES Expert Statement on the
Psychological Preparation for Football
Produced on behalf of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences by Dr Mark Wilson,
Dr Greg Wood and Prof Geir Jordet
Anxiety is the most signiﬁcant contributing factor to performance
failure in football penalty shootouts (Jordet et al., 2007,
2012). Indeed, the penalty is one of very few occasions in
this predominantly fast-moving, team sport when players are
under individual scrutiny and have sufﬁcient time to think about
the consequences of failure (Jordet & Elferink-Gemser, 2012).
Furthermore, unlike most other skills that are susceptible to
choking effects (e.g., golf putting), the opposing team’s goalkeeper
increases uncertainty and has a direct inﬂuence on performance
success. Among practitioners there is considerable confusion
and controversy regarding the type, utility and effectiveness of
practice and preparation for a penalty shootout. Indeed, penalty
shootouts are often referred to as a ‘lottery’, with the outcome
dependent on luck rather than skill. We argue that such an
interpretation is potentially damaging to players’ control beliefs
and ultimately to their performance, and that interventions
designed to increase perceptions of control might be useful.
Background and evidence
Penalty taking and pressure
Evidence for the effect of pressure on penalty taking performance
comes from both observational and experimental studies. For
example, Jordet and colleagues have examined almost 400 kicks
from penalty shootouts held during major tournaments. They
found that players score on fewer than 60% of their attempts
when a miss will instantly result in a loss for the team compared
to 92% of their attempts when a goal will win the game (Jordet
et al., 2007). Jordet and colleagues have suggested that penalty
takers’ perceptions of control may explain why some ‘choke’
under the pressure of the shootout and some players succeed.
Players’ perceptions of control are inﬂuenced by both beliefs
about the role of skill or luck (contingency), and their beliefs
about their penalty taking ability (competence). Players with
low perceived competence and contingency (who believe the
outcome is dependent on luck or the goalkeeper’s actions rather
than skill) experienced more cognitive anxiety symptoms than
those who perceived their competence and contingency level as
high (Jordet et al., 2006).
A body of experimental research suggests that the mechanisms
behind choking in this task may be related to disruptions in visual
attentional control. Three types of visual strategy are used in
penalty taking (Wood & Wilson, 2010a):
1. Keeper-independent (ignore the keeper and pick a spot)
2. Keeper-dependent (watch the keeper and make a decision
based on his movements)
3. Opposite-independent (look one way and shoot to other side).
While performers are more accurate when adopting a keeper
independent approach, the relationship between aiming intention,
visual strategy and accuracy is disrupted when anxiety is increased.
Speciﬁcally, anxiety increases the amount of attention paid to the
goalkeeper and increases the likelihood that takers will produce
shots that are hit signiﬁcantly closer to the goalkeeper and
therefore more ‘saveable’ (Wilson et al., 2009).
What can be done?
By examining video footage of successful and unsuccessful
penalty performance it is possible to determine behaviours that
appear to be more productive than others. For example, players
who take less than one second to place the ball on the penalty
spot score on about 58% of their penalties whereas those who
take longer score on about 80% of their penalties (Jordet et al.,
2009). Similarly, taking about a second or more to respond to the
referee’s whistle to initiate the shot is associated with a higher
probability of scoring than immediately rushing towards the ball
(Jordet et al., 2009). Therefore, players need to take their time as
Jordet, G. & Elferink-Gemser, M.T. (2012). Stress, coping, and emotions on
the world stage: The experience of participating in a major soccer tournament penalty
shootout. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 24, 73-91.
Jordet, G. et al. (2006). The “Russian roulette” of soccer?: Perceived control and
anxiety in a major tournament penalty shootout. International Journal Sport Psychology,
37, 281 – 298.
Jordet, G., Hartman, E. & Sigmundstad, E. (2009). Temporal links to performing
under pressure in international soccer penalty shootouts. Psychology of Sport and
Exercise, 10, 621 – 627.
Jordet, G., Hartman, E., Visscher, C. & Lemimink, K.A.P.M. (2007). Kicks
from the penalty mark in soccer: The roles of stress, skill, and fatigue for kick outcomes.
Journal of Sports Sciences, 25, 121 – 129.
Moll, T., Jordet, G. & Pepping, G.J. (2010). Emotional contagion in soccer penalty
shootouts: Celebration of individual success is associated with ultimate team success.
Journal of Sports Sciences, 28, 983-992.
Wilson, M.R., Wood, G. & Vine, S.J. (2009). Anxiety, attentional control and
performance impairment in penalty kicks. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 31,
Wood, G. & Wilson, M.R. (2010a). Gaze behaviour and shooting strategies in
football penalty kicks: Implications of a ‘keeper-dependent approach. International
Journal of Sport Psychology, 41, 293-312.
Wood, G. & Wilson, M.R. (2012). Quiet-eye training, perceived control and
performing under pressure. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13, 721-728.
Download a PDF of this article:
Dr Mark Wilson
Mark is an associate professor in sport psychology and skill acquisition
at the University of Exeter, where his research examines the cognitive
processes underlying the learning and skilled performance of targeting
skills. He is also a BASES accredited sport and exercise scientist and a
BPS Chartered Psychologist.
Dr Greg Wood
Greg is a lecturer in sport psychology and skill acquisition at Liverpool
Hope University. Greg’s PhD focused on the visuomotor control of
football penalty takers; how this might be disrupted by anxiety and
distractions; and how quiet eye training regimes might improve both
visuomotor and psychological control.
Prof Geir Jordet
Geir is Director of Psychology at the Norwegian Centre of Football
Excellence and a researcher on psychology and football at the
Norwegian School of Sport Sciences. As a practitioner, he works with
several Norwegian professional football teams and regularly gives
advice to other European clubs and organisations.
Copyright © BASES, 2013
Permission is given for reproduction in substantial part. We ask that the following note
be included: “First published in The Sport and Exercise Scientist, Issue 38, Winter 2013.
Published by the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences – www.bases.org.uk”
they prepare for the shot, rather than rushing to get the penalty
over and done with.
Developing and practicing a suitable pre-shot routine is a
potentially useful way to guide these timings and help protect
performance under pressure. Indeed, recent research by Wood
and Wilson (2012) has suggested that learning a routine involving a
gaze control element (look at the point where you want to shoot
prior to the run-up) helped penalty takers in a shootout task to
be more accurate, maintain effective visuomotor control and
increase perceptions of psychological control and contingency.
While it is virtually impossible to recreate the pressure experienced
in a shootout, it is possible to ﬁne-tune the skill of penalty taking
in training. In the shootout itself, when anxiety will be exerting
a powerful inﬂuence on attentional control and perceptions of
contingency, such beliefs about competence should help strengthen
perceptions of control and help to maintain performance.
Football is a team sport and it is worth noting that what a
player does after scoring a penalty in a shootout can inﬂuence
the performance of those taking arguably the more pressurised
penalties afterwards. Jordet and colleagues (Moll et al., 2010)
found that on penalties taken when the score is tied, 82% of the
players who substantially celebrate their goal end up on the winning
team. The positive emotions from such a celebration seem to be
contagious. Team meetings should also be held to discuss what
players fear the most (i.e., missing a shot) and, more importantly,
discussing strategies for dealing with these outcomes. Teams can
develop ‘What if’ plans for each individual to deal with his/her
missed kick and for the group to support those players who do miss
(Jordet & Elferink-Gemser, 2012).
Conclusions and recommendations
• Have team meetings to discuss some of the known success
factors in penalty shootouts (see above); the fears of the players;
and plans to support individual and team failure.
• Develop and practice pre-shot routines (including the walk in
from the centre circle) that have a gaze control element which
promotes optimal aiming behaviour.
• Promote target-focused practice so that players can hit each
of the four corners consistently (to increase competence/
• Coaches need to be innovative when designing ways to increase
anxiety and distraction, and methods to challenge perceived
control during training. For example, players could practise
shooting while telling the goalkeeper which side they intend to
shoot to. An accurate penalty is very hard to stop even if the
goalkeeper knows which way it is going - so by practicing in
these conditions players can reinforce perceptions of control
over the outcome.
• Don’t rush: Place the ball properly on the spot and take a breath
while focusing on where you intend to shoot, before starting the
run-up. Taking a deep breath is likely to ease feelings of anxiety
and provides a temporal cue to ensure that sufﬁcient processing
of target-related information is enabled.
• Trust your technique and routine – pick a spot and hit it.
• Celebrate! It will help your team-mates who have to take the
subsequent penalty kicks.
It is hoped that this synthesis of research into penalty taking might
help alleviate some of the learned helplessness that appears to be
rife in football concerning the mental and physical preparation for
football penalty shootouts. Penalty takers need to regain control
of this situation, rather than allowing themselves to be victims of
the environment, their lack of preparation, or the antics of the
goalkeeper. Penalty shootouts don’t have to be a lottery!
Left: Players who take less than one second to place
the ball on the penalty spot score on about 58% of their
penalties whereas those who take longer score on about
80% of their penalties