emi martinez, penalty saving tips

How to Save a Penalty: What Does the Research Say?

The Science of Penalty Kicks: Tips for Goalkeepers

Have you ever watched a nail-biting penalty shootout and wondered, "How do goalkeepers guess where the ball is going?" Well, scientists have actually studied this, and there's a lot more going on than just plain guessing. Let's dive in and discover some cool tricks goalkeepers use that might just help you in your quest to become a penalty-saving boss!

1. Reading the Player's Body Language

Just like you might look at a friend's face to see if they're happy or sad, goalkeepers look at the player's body to get clues. Research shows that the direction a player's hips or planting foot (the non-kicking foot) is pointing can give away the direction of the kick. But be careful, some clever players at higher levels might use this to trick the goalkeeper!

2. Eyes Can Be Deceptive

You might think looking at the player's eyes would be a good hint, right? Sometimes this can be a great tactic however surprisingly, research says... not always. Some studies found that the eyes don't always point where the ball is going. Some expert players even use their eyes to trick the goalkeeper. 

3. Waiting Until the Last Moment

You might think that the quicker a goalkeeper moves, the better. But research says it's a good idea to wait just a tiny bit. When the goalkeeper waits, even for a fraction of a second, they have a better chance of catching or blocking the ball. This small delay gives them more time to read the player's movements.

4. Practice Makes Perfect

Of course, like anything in life, practice is super important. Goalkeepers who face lots of penalties in training get better at picking up on tiny hints. It's like learning to read a new language made up of kicks and dives.

5. The Mind Game

Football isn't just about the body; it's also about the mind. Goalkeepers sometimes try to distract or confuse the player taking the kick. They might jump around, point, or even talk to the penalty-taker. Some studies suggest this can make the player more nervous and miss their shot with chances of a penalty miss increasing the longer the time that they had to wait. Click the link at the bottom of this article to see why science says that playing mind games and drawing attention to yourself just might help you to save more penalties.

6. Patterns and Homework

Some goalkeepers and their coaches do "homework." They watch videos of players taking penalties in past games. By doing this, they can sometimes spot patterns. For example, a player may have a 'favourite side' or may change their side in high-pressure games. If you have access to video highlights of opponents then you are able to look back and do some very valuable and worthwhile homework. 

The Middle

While many players choose to shoot to the left or right, a kick right in the middle can be really tricky. Why? Because goalkeepers often dive to one side, thinking the player will try to place the ball in a corner. So, sometimes the middle is the most unexpected choice! This can make it very difficult for goalkeepers as there is essentially a 3:1 chance of making the correct decision. 

So... How do I Save a Penalty???

Penalty kicks are very hard, and whilst there's a lot of science and strategy behind them there is no fool-proof way to saving penalties.We recommend that you decide on one strategy, whether that be to guess, read the strikers body shape or do your homework and use the data to make your decision. When you dive, try to extend your legs as high as possible and this can give you a chance at saving a shot that has been hit directly down the middle. 

Do Whatever You Can

Penalties are tough, do whatever you can to make yourself confident that your are going to save it. Whether that be to waste time or try to get inside your opponents head. A great example of this was Argentina's Emi Martinez in the 2022 World Cup, where his excellent display of showman-ship was so successful and frustrating for some viewers at home, that FIFA brought in a rule change the following season that restricted the amount of things that Goalkeepers can do to put off a penalty taker (Check Out Emi's Penalty Tactics for Yourself!)

Goalkeepers are already at a great disadvantage for penalties and so unless you are in danger of being sent off... be like Emi... do whatever you can to put them off! 

We have seen countless creative ways Goalkeepers use to put their opponents off: From pretending to tie laces, faking injuries or going for a walk to say hi to Mum & Dad at the side of the pitch... find out what works for you! 

Next time you watch a game, watch the Goalkeeper see if you can spot some of the tricks we've talked about. And remember, whether you're a goalkeeper, outfielder, or just a fan – football is all about having fun and trying your best. 


Fun Fact

Did you know that the color of a goalkeeper's jersey might influence the outcome of penalty kicks? A study found that skilled soccer players were more likely to miss the target when the goalkeeper wore a red jersey compared to other colors. It's believed that the color red might be perceived as more dominant or intimidating, possibly affecting the penalty taker's confidence or decision-making. However, it's worth noting that many factors play a role in real-world matches, and cultural differences can influence color perceptions. So, while red might offer a slight edge, skill and strategy remain the best way to ensure you become a penalty-saving master! ⚽️🔴


Reading a Players Body Language

Why drawing attention yourself might help you save more penalties

Colour of Soccer Goalkeepers Jersey influences the outcome of penalty kicks

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