Myths: You Can’t Practice Penalties

9 06 2010

Just heard it again. Peter Beardsley this time…

”You can’t practice penalties”.

You just cannot replicate the pressure you see. So there’s no point practising. Bizarre. Only in the surreal world of professional football could such a thinking become accepted wisdom. I seriously doubt David Cameron would have had much success explaining in the Prime Ministerial debates that there was no point in him preparing for office since he could not possibly recreate the pressures he would be under.

Nor is it as we often get told ”a lottery”. For the rest of the world, the golfer Gary Player’s famous oft-repeated quote that ”the more I practice the luckier I get” is one of life’s great truisms. A point so brilliant, so succinctly obvious that it trumps many arguments on the subject of luck. Not in the world of football. In football, penalties – kicking a ball past a goalkeeper into a net – are treated with dubious scepticism.. almost as though there is a longing for better days when such things will be decided by fairer means, such as a coin toss perhaps?

In 1998, such was Glenn Hoddle’s fascination with the psychological, he had the England players practice their penalties from further away than 12 yards. His logic was this – when it came to the big day the players would feel fantastic because the goal would seem closer than they were used to and the penalty therefore appear easier. Interesting then, that Paul Ince and David Batty should strike crisp penalties a little too close to the keeper. Penalties that may well have found the corner if they had been struck from the distance they had been practising them. Muddled thinking?

Call me a radical thinker here, but it occurs to me that of the myriad of possible scenarios a footballer can face on a field, one of the few he stands any chance of exactly recreating in training is the art of a penalty kick. A stationary ball, 12 yards from goal. Practice, practice, practice… and hopefully, as in many walks of life, when the moment comes and the pressure is on, you can fall back on the hours of work you’ve put in and trust that the practice will see you through…  

Or maybe ”you just can’t practice penalties”.