Want to save a penalty kick?

Professor Rich Masters

Professor Rich Masters

Here’s how to increase your odds

University of Waikato Professor Rich Masters passes on tried and true tips and insights based on scientific research which may help you this winter season.

So, if only about 18 percent of football’s penalty kicks are saved, how can goalkeepers swing the advantage back their way?

It seems the answer is simple; if the goalkeeper stands just 6-10cm to one side, the penalty kicker is more likely to kick to the side with more space than to the side with less space. This means the goalkeeper no longer has to guess which way to dive, but can strategically dive to the side ‘left open’ with more space.

After analysing football tournaments such as the World Cup, Professor Masters and his team discovered that 96 percent of the time, goalkeepers stood marginally to the left or right of the goal centre – it is not easy to stand in the exact centre of a goal. Try it! Amazingly, even though they did not know it, the goalkeepers had a strategic advantage from their poor positioning, because kicks more often went to the side that had slightly more space.

After evaluating experimental studies, Professor Masters and his team concluded that simply by standing ever so slightly to one side – something that scientists call a Just Noticeable Difference – it is possible for a goalkeeper to influence the direction penalty shooters chose to kick to, without the shooter even knowing it.

Tall stories about goal kickers in rugby
Even though the International Rugby Board (IRB) stipulates that rugby goalposts should have a specific width, crossbar height and minimum height of posts (5.6m, 3m, 3.4m), there is no regulation maximum height. All over the world, there is a large variation in height – from farmers’ hay paddocks (3.4m) to Twickenham (16.8m), to the world record Wednesbury Rugby Football Club’s 38.56m! It is this factor that can heavily influence the decisions made by players who are goal-kicking.

After a series of laboratory studies, Professor Masters and his team revealed that varying heights created a visual illusion for kickers, who adjusted their distance from the posts accordingly. For example, higher posts appeared narrower, causing kickers to position the ball further from the try-line compared with shorter goalposts that appeared wider.

Professor Masters and his team concluded that the height of goalpost uprights influences perception of their width, which potentially influences decisions about where to place the ball when taking a conversion kick.

Why not turn your passion for sport into a career in one of New Zealand’s fastest growing industries? Our three-year Bachelors gives you the tools to excel. Plus, you can gain practical placement opportunities with our partners – the Avantidrome Home of Cycling, Cycling New Zealand, Cold Power Magic, Chiefs Rugby and the Tauranga High Performance Sports Centre.
Visit: waikato.ac.nz/go/spls

Masters, R.S.W., van der Kamp, J., & Jackson, R.C. (2007). Imperceptibly off-centre goalkeepers influence penalty-kick direction in soccer. Psychological Science, 18, 222-223.
Gao N., Poolton J.M., & Masters, R.S.W. (2012). Examining the goalposts illusion in rugby. The 6th Annual Conference of the Australasian Skill Acquisition Research Group, Melbourne, Australia.


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