The Euro’s: Penalties, Pressure and Body Language

Missed penalties have been a theme of this year’s Euro’s, with Alvaro Morata following in Kylian Mbappe’s footsteps in becoming the unfortunate victim of the penalty shootout. The 12-yard shot isn’t quite so simple when you have a nation’s hopes resting on your shoulders, and previous penalty shootout research shows us that the odds weren’t as friendly to Morata and Mbappe as you might have thought.
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Big players = LESS likely to score

Contrary to what you may believe, high status players only score about 60% of their penalties in a shoot out vs the average 75%.

I’m not sure if we can stretch to calling Morata a superstar, but Mbappe certainly fits in this category, and if he was a few years younger, it may have actually helped his odds.

The chance of a superstar scoring before they’re recognised as one is 90% vs 60% in their less well known days. The reason for this may be that status brings added attention, expectations, media implications and thus added pressure.

Pressure makes us overthink, become overly conscious and revert to an earlier stage of learning, which is disastrous for performance.

Neuroscience research shows us that when we revert to being overly conscious of our movement, we are actually interfering with our smooth, unconscious and deeply learnt movement patterns that can be carried out with little to no thought.

The odds weren’t in their favour

Mbappe and Morata were in a difficult spot, knowing that they couldn’t miss, and taking a penalty under these circumstances is not conducive to success. And although Jorginho was cool under pressure with his hop, skip and jump, the odds were actually stacked in his favour.

When a miss will lead to instant loss, the odds of scoring = 60%

When a goal leads to an instant win, the odds of scoring = 90%

Sarri probably thinks this is enough for Jorginho to win the Ballon d’Or…

Signs of stress

Two obvious signs of stress were on display for both Mbappe and Morata; body language and quick response times.

Don’t rush…

All of the French penalty takers took 3+ seconds to initiate their run up following the referee’s whistle, with Pogba topping the stats at 6.5 seconds. Mbappe took just 0.2 seconds to respond, and last night I don’t think Morata was far off Mbappe’s response time either.

Fast response times indicate rushing, nerves and a lack of composure, and are associated with lower penalty success,

Don’t look down…

Sport Psychology studies show that posture impacts performance. Your body language is an outward expression of your internal experience, reinforcing any positive or negative thoughts you may have, and influencing the release of certain stress or performance enhancing hormones.

In Morata’s walk from the half way line prior to the penalty, he looked like a dog after being told he’s a bad boy, looking down at the ground the the entire time.

Chiellini in the toss up

While Morata’s body language was bad, a special mention needs to go to Chiellini’s display in the toss up. The macho Italian captain was pushing, shaking and even lightly punching poor old Jordi Alba, who was smiling but clearly visibly nervous and not liking it one bit.

Although neither of them took penalties, I wonder if this display of dominance sent a message to both teams. Italy seeing their captain visibly relaxed and enjoying the moment. Spain seeing their captain getting dominated, visibly nervous and worried about what Chiellini might do next.

If it goes to penalties tonight, we’re better prepared than ever

With England playing tonight, I’m hoping we don’t need a penalty shooutout to settle the score against Denmark. We have bad history. England’s penalty shootout win record was just 17% before the 2018 world cup with our response times being quicker than any other nation.

But, if it does go to penalties, I believe we are better prepared than ever. Southgate is big on psychology, which is evident through the team spirit. Penalties were a point of focus before the 2018 World Cup, with FA psychologists supporting the players in their preparation and not leaving it to pot luck.

Some advice if you’re ever in a penalty shootout

  • It’s better to go first – the team that go first win 60.5% of the time
  • Celebrating after scoring a penalty is associated with a higher chance of winning
  • Don’t rush after the whistle, take your time
  • Look up and show positive body language – it affects both you and the opposition
  • Attackers score more than midfielders and defenders
  • The best penalty takers should go first
  • Superstars are more likely to miss

Jordet (2007) – When Superstars Flop: Public Status and Choking Under Pressure in International Soccer Penalty Shootouts

Jordet et al (2009) – Temporal links to performing under pressure in international soccer penalty shootouts

Apesteguia & Palacios-Huerta (2009) – Psychological Pressure in Competitive Environments: Evidence from a Randomized Natural Experiment

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