When we talk about penalty taking I’m sure most will remember 1990 with Pearce, Southgate in 1996, Saka in 2020 or Kane in 2022 or if you’re from outside the UK you mind will go back to your when your club or country missed one of their own. It costs teams major prizes or progression in major competitions.
As coaches, how do we allow players to be calm under pressure when taking penalties? Can we create the pressured environment that is almostimpossible to recreate? Recently one of the coaches at one of our partner clubs has set us that challenge.
So we have come up with a few ideas to try and help coaches develop their young players to remain calm under pressure when taking penalties.
The key thing to remember is that we are trying to create an environment that safely causes our players to be under pressure and emotional. This may cause a few wobbles emotionally, some tantrums, and the odd tear. We as coaches must be supportive. We need to set boundaries for players so they know when they can apply the pressure that’s needed and when to be supportive of their teammates.
End of Session Practice
I’m sure we’ve all seen professional teams practice penalties at the end of training, either individually or as a team. However, to fully make this relatable to a penalty shootout, coaches should consider the emotional and psychological impact of the long walk from the halfway line. Therefore whenever practising penalties, coaches can considering splitting into two teams, putting players on the halfway line and replicate every aspect of the penalty shootout. Don’t be afraid to even encourage some psychological warfare by the opposition and goalkeepers playing mind games alongside the odd crowd noise.
To try and replicate the pressure of winning and losing a penalty shoot-out, why not add a reward for the winning team for example, losing team has to collect the kit or winning team is rewarded in some way.
Internal games nights within training can have a massive benefit to players’ psychological and social development. The coach being in control of an environment where they can safely manipulate the constraints to stretch and test the emotions of the players, allowing players to compete under pressure. It also provides some safety, as the constraints can be tweaked at any time. The idea is for players to potentially become emotionally hijacked within the game, and if they can continue to focus on playing football in the right spirit, they learn some excellent strategies to cope with pressure. You can also create pressure points during games, for example, award penalties through officiating poorly or settle drawn games with shootouts. This all gives additional practice to taking penalties in an emotionally charged environment.
Penalties Prior to Games
An even safer way of developing penalty taking under pressure is taking the penalties before the start of the training game. The score at the end of the shootout is the score at the start of the game. For example, before you start the game at the end of your session make each team take 3 penalties. Team A scores 2 whereas team B only scores 1 meaning the score to start the game will be 2-1 to team A. This results in the 2 players who missed for team B, experience the pressure of taking penalties to affect the score line, but also, the opportunity to recover the score and still compete within the game.
This gives all players the pressure of taking penalties but also the safety net of being able to fix any misses should they be losing after the penalties.
Replicating a penalty shootout is one of the hardest scenarios in the game to create. However developing how players cope with pressure, their emotions and their psychological state within games could be crucial to getting success. Controlling our environment through making subtle changes to stretch and challenge individuals will really help you do this. But don’t forget to give players practice at taking them too, as they also need to develop the technical side of penalty taking as well as being able to cope emotionally.