Friday, 2 July 2010

The Goalkeeper's Fear Of The Penalty

As the World Cup circles get tighter and tighter then the question of penalties raises its head. Quarter Finals now and who would bet against them occurring somewhere...

Now that England are out and the autosuggested fear of missing becomes less of an issue (though of course the Dutch are still in the competition), attention has switched to the fears of the goalkeeper, who is often assumed to be the only one in a penalty shootout with nothing to lose.

Not so, or so this article suggests.

Ofer Azar, a Behavioural Economist, argues that the goalkeepers have a very real fear during a penalty which can be roughly (perhaps wrongly) translated as the fear of being seen to do nothing. Although it's statistically better for them to stay in the middle of the goal, they tend to feel the need to dive spectacularly one way or another even if they know this is a strategy doomed to failure.

This is a kind of inverse Omission Bias (the tendency to judge harmful actions as worse than equally harmful omissions or inactions) which could be argued as an emotional flaw in logic which dogged England, France et al at this World Cup - the fear of being seen as inactive (i.e. uncaring, lacking in passion) led to players overdoing things (think of all those long raking aimless balls from Gerrard, the bizarre crossfield dribbling of Ribery).


  1. Very interesting comparison.

    Being on a stage like the World Cup does seem to dissuade players from sticking to the simple things.

    Incidentally, I would absolutely love to see a keeper in a shootout do that - declare his contempt for the lottery of it all and just stand still and look big. He probably would stop one or two, though the takers would soon catch on and start putting them in the corners...

  2. But surely the reason why it would be statistically preferable to stay in the middle is that a lot of shots end up there once the shooter has worked out that the goalie is going to dive, and in which direction, therefore opts to take the safest shot.

    If goalkeepers really started to just stand still, as digitalben suggests, I suspect that scoring penalties would become easier.

  3. (Also: isn't that exactly what Van der Saar did? Little children lined up to score penalties against the guy.)

  4. agree with both of you here. The only addition would be, if someone DID decide just to stay still (I'd expect some Grobelaar / Dudek knee wobbling, mind) I'm not convinced everyone could hit the corners... the corners seem very elusive so far... and the unmoving keeper would at least give something else to think about...