England’s World Cup penalty problems are ‘all in the eyes’

Martin Caparrotta
By Martin Caparrotta
england penalty

England were knocked out of the World Cup on penalties in 1998 and 2006 (Photo: Nigel Wilson)

The reason why England struggle with penalty shoot-outs at major tournaments is “all in the eyes”, according to a new University study.

The study, which was conducted by a PhD student at the University of Exeter, revealed that during a shoot-out footballers “are more likely to be distracted by threatening stimuli and focus on them, rather than the task in hand.”

Greg Wood, who conducted the research, said: “in a stressful penalty shootout, a footballer’s attention is likely to be directed towards the goalkeeper as opposed to the optimal scoring zones.”

“This disrupts the aiming of the shot and increases the likelihood of subsequently hitting the shot towards the goalkeeper, making it easier to save.”

The study was carried out by analysing 14 members of a football team, each of whom wore special glasses to record precise eye movements as they each took two penalties.

For the first attempt they were simply asked to do their best to score. For the second, however, Wood and his team told the participants the results would be recorded, shared with their team-mates and a £50 prize given to the best spot-kick taker.

The results showed that when anxious, the footballers looked at the goalkeeper significantly earlier and for longer. This change in eye behaviour made players more likely to shoot towards the centre of the goal, making it easier for the goalkeeper to save.

The researchers believe that by being made aware of the impact of anxiety on eye movements, and the effect this has on the accuracy of a player’s shots, coaches could address this issue through training.

“Research shows that the optimum strategy for penalty takers to use is to pick a spot and shoot to it, ignoring the goalkeeper in the process,” continued Wood.

“The idea that you cannot recreate the anxiety a penalty taker feels during a shootout is no excuse for not practicing. Do you think other elite performers don’t practice basic aiming shots in darts, snooker or golf for the same reasons? These skills need to be ingrained so they are robust under pressure.”


MORE: The latest football transfer news

MORE: Meet the Premier League's most stylish footballers

MORE: Do you know the top Muslim footballers in the Premier League?

MORE: Take a tour of Arsenal star Mesut Ozil’s £10m London house

MORE: Man United latest news

MORE: Arsenal latest news

MORE: Chelsea latest news

MORE: Liverpool latest news

The Sport Review
Arsene Wenger explains his decision to leave Arsenal
The Sport Review
Top 50 most stylish footballers in the world in 2017: Arsenal, Man United, Chelsea, Liverpool stars feature
The Sport Review
Take a tour of Cristiano Ronaldo’s stunning house in Madrid
The Sport Review
Arsenal player wages 2018: Can you guess how much each Arsenal player earns?
The Sport Review
Top 50 Muslim footballers: Arsenal, Chelsea FC, Liverpool FC and Man United stars feature
The Sport Review
Take a tour of Arsenal star Mesut Ozil’s £10m London house with us
The Sport Review
Jose Mourinho delivers Antonio Valencia update ahead of Man United v Tottenham
The Sport Review
Mo Salah sends message to Chelsea FC fans about Liverpool FC form
The Sport Review
Harry Redknapp sends warning to Man United about world-class signings