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When you kick a soccer ball, it tends to go where you’re looking. The problem is that when you’re anxious, you tend to fixate on threats — the goalkeeper, in this case — and consequently kick it straight at him. That’s the message from an interesting University of Exeter study published last month, which I just noticed thanks to Dan Peterson’s blog.
The players wore special glasses which enabled the researchers to record precise eye movements and analyse the focus of each footballer’s gaze and the amount of time spent looking at different locations in the goal. 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 keeper to save.
The solution? “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,” the study’s author says. And to do that, you need to practice, so that the skill becomes so ingrained it no longer requires conscious control, as discussed in this Jockology column.