The penalty kick…the ultimate in pressure situations. Often the penalty kick comes at a critical juncture in the game where there is nothing between the two teams but 12 yards from the spot. Many a World Cup, Champion’s League and MLS Cup game has come down to converting from the penalty spot after teams remain tied after extra time.
Jens Lehmann makes a save on the last penalty kick by Argentinean
Esteban Cambiasso in the 2006 World Cup Quarterfinals
A solid, well struck penalty kick is almost impossible for the goalkeeper to stop, yet we often see misses and amazing saves. A well directed, firmly struck penalty in soccer is almost impossible for the goalkeeper to save, and yet penalties are frequently missed.
To be successful at converting from the spot, there are two key components that must be mastered…the technique and the mentality.
You can pretty much split up penalty takers into two categories. There are those that go for a well placed inside of the foot shot, and those that go for an all out blast that shakes the net. Both are effective, but each one has it’s strengths and weaknesses.
“A well-placed ball, high to the corner, will not be stopped by the goalkeeper even if he anticipates it” says Professor Tom Riley, Liverpool John Moores University.
“There is not enough time to react, so a kick placed in this area would have a 100% strike rate.”
“Some players blast the ball straight down the middle, assuming that the goalkeeper will move, but it’s not always successful.”
Upper 90 Penalty Zones
The upper 90 top corners may be a sure thing if you hit them, but that shot is tough and there is a lot that can go wrong. However, it has been shown that putting it in this spot makes it just about impossible for the keeper to save.
Lower 90 Penalty Zones
Conventional wisdom says to go for the the side netting (lower 90), low and just down inside the post. While this is an easier strike, a keeper that guesses correctly can get to the spot and make the save as Lehmann does in the photo above.
One key to perfect penalty kicks is having perfect form. If you have the correct form with your soccer kicks, you never have to worry about accuracy. When it comes to building the foundation for an automatic penalty kick, I recommend picking up a copy of the Blast the Ball DVD. It is by far the best coaching resource I have seen for developing a strong and accurate shot.
Mentally, it’s important to stay calm and ignore the goalkeeper. The keeper will most likely be jumping around trying to distract you. It is a good idea to make a quick check of the keeper’s position just to make sure he isn’t lined up properly, but other wise don’t look at him.
To enter a state of flow or ‘being in the zone’ when taking a penalty shot you need to stop thought. Sure you can have a pre-decided idea as to where you are going to blast the ball. But thought or any self consciousness about what you are doing will just block your success.
In order to be able to reach this state consistently, you have to practice under pressure. As a coach, you should place your players in mini games where there are consequences for losing. Split your players up into teams and have them take penalty kicks with the loser running extra sprints or something of that nature. The pressure side of penalty kicks is almost as tough as the execution side so put your players under pressure in practice and they will deliver in game time situations.