Over the last few years books by Gladwell, Sayeed, Simon Kuper & Stefan Syzmanski, Chris Anderson & David Sally have made me smile. As they all state “perceived football wisdom” is wrong – specifically that the long-standing assertions espoused by football pundits are nonsense. For many of us paying customers with a passion about the game they have confirmed that we were right and the “experts” are wrong.
One such “expert” assertion that hopefully won’t but MAY occur for Celtic tonight is the specter of a penalty shoot-out and of course “you can’t practice for penalties” because “ no amount of practice prepares you for the pressure of the situation.” A statement which is quite frankly b*ll**ks! If everything “goes out of the window” under the pressure of a penalty shoot-out and it all “comes down to luck” then surely any team would be just as well taking 5 random guys from the crowd to take the penalties. Patently that is nonsense and so is the concept that you cannot practice for penalties.
I am an infrequent golfer. I have a reasonable game and am well aware that could I be bothered to practice my mid teens handicap would possibly drop to single figures. One of my biggest weaknesses is putting – quite frankly I find practice boring, with purposeful practice just too dull. My putting therefore improves little. Of late however I have managed to play a little more and my ave. of 2 putts per hole has dropped to 1.8. That has been achieved by improving my real weakness of 3 – 6 ft putts. And so to penalty thoughts.
My recent games have been on my own or with my dad. Yesterday I played with a group of strangers, slightly more pressure than playing with my Dad…and I missed! It got me thinking of the penalty analogy – putts with my Dad or on my own are fine. With the group of strangers I had extra pressure and missed, so should I resign myself to missing these forever – no I just need to practice so that I have so much confidence and I no longer feel under any pressure putting in different environments. So take this up a level to pro golfers.
The comment from pro-footballers is that nothing can replicate the pressure of taking a penalty in a shoot-out – for the older reader I am sure nothing had prepared Sam Torrance for his famous Belfry putt which won the Ryder Cup in 1985, but his technique held firm and he holed it. I appreciate there are greater variables in a penalty than a putt (goalkeeper for one) but the principles are the same – his technique was practiced to the extent that the impact of the variables (nerves, atmosphere, implications of the occasion, playing for a team rather than himself etc) was minimized.
Perhaps the best penalty shootout I have witnessed was at home against Spartak. The penalties were superb, lashed into the top corners and upon finalizing this piece I have googled penalty stats and it seems that the top 3rd of the goals will virtually guarantee a successful penalty. http://www.penaltyshootouts.co.uk/research.html
Hopefully we win but 4 or 5 goals tonight, but I doubt it. I’d settle for getting to a shootout – provided we (all players) have practiced.