Penalties are a fact of life. Often no fault of the keeper (nor in some cases, the defenders) keepers can expect to face on pretty frequently. In this short post we describe why it’s no big deal, and how you can improve the odds of saving it and becoming a hero.

Managing expectations

Keepers fear penalties because the odds are in favor of the kicker. On average, the kicker should convert about two out of every three penalties they take, or a 66% success rate. That leave the odds of saving one at about one in three – about 33%. 

Just another one v one

Penalties are just another example of the “one v one”, in that it’s just the keeper versus the striker. All other players are spectators until the ball is kicked. As we saw here and here, keepers have less to fear than the striker. Given the odds favor the striker (66% versus 33%) the pressure is on the striker. If they miss, then they will feel the heat from their teammates and their coach. But if the keeper fails and the striker scores, well it was supposed to be that way. In the keeper makes the save, they’re a hero. 

Rules is rules.

First some comments on the rules regarding penalty kicks.

The keeper has to remain touching or “above” the line with both feet until the ball is kicked. They can move along the line, and bounce up and down, but they must remain “on the line”.

Anyone who saw the numerous “re-taken” kicks in the Women’s World Cup will know that the VAR system was the cause of the increase in re-takes. It’s too hard for a human (referee) eye to tell whether the keeper’s feet are over the line when the ball is kicked, so in normal (no-VAR) games we’d suggest not to worry too much about it as long as it’s only one foot off the line. When diving, one foot naturally moves forward (the “power step”) and we doubt many refs will call a re-take for that.

The next rule is the position of the other players. All players other than the kicker and the keeper have to be outside the penalty box, as well as outside the “D” at the top of the box. The “D” line is only used for penalties – it has no other use in a game. Only after the ball is kicked can they move towards the ball and goal.

Another rule worth noting is the “no-double-kick” rule. The kicker can only touch the ball once until another player touches the ball. That means they can’t pass to themselves, before shooting. It also means if the ball his the crossbar or post and comes straight back to them, they can’t touch it. 

If the keeper touches the ball onto the bar or post, obviously the kicker can have another kick. But if they don’t, then the keeper can use this to help save the penalty. If the ball goes straight back to the kicker don’t interrupt them kicking it again. Once they touch it a second time its a free kick to you. Most kickers won’t remember this and just kick it a second time. Don’t disturb them if they do. But if the kicker realizes and leaves the ball the the keeper should dive on it and secure it. Don’t kick it away because that allows all other players to kick the ball.  

Finally, the kicker is not allowed to “feint” in their run up – ie they can’t stop half way through the run up to try to make the keeper move before they hit it .

FIFA soccer’s global governing body clarified this for penalty kicks in 2010:

“Feinting in the run-up to take a penalty kick to confuse opponents is permitted, however, feinting to kick the ball once the player has completed his run-up is now considered an infringement of Law 14 and an act of unsporting behavior for which the player must be cautioned.”

Choose a side

Given the odds are against the keeper, saving the ball will be hard. But there are a few techniques one can use to improve their chances.

When a ball is struck strongly by pro-players like Messi and Ronaldo, it’s moving about 80mph. That means it takes the ball less than half a second to travel the 12yrds from the penalty spot to the goal. Even the best World-Class goalkeepers like De Gea and Neur take nearly 3/4 of a second to dive from the centre of the goal to a post. And thats if they dive the correct way.

Basically, the ball has passed them by the time they (luckily) dive the correct way. And statistics from games tend to point to the goalkeeper guessing the correct side only 40% of the time. 

So the keeper has to try to read the striker, and then choose a side and commit – just dive that way and hope for the best.

How to read the mind of the striker

Every striker has a certain preference for side and height of kick. And some will give it away if you’re looking carefully enough. 

Many strikers tend to look at the corner of the goal they plan to shoot at, as they are placing the ball on the spot – try to watch for it.

They also show which way they are going to kick, by the shape of their hips, just as they run up to the ball. If a right footed striker is going to kick it to their right, they tend to open their hips as they kick. If planning to kick to their left, they tend to close their hips as they swing their foot across their body. 

Try to get in their head

The same statistics also show that where a keeper has influenced the striker, putting them off, the odds of saving the penalty are much higher. 

Examples are the Man Utd keeper Van Der Sar in the 2008 Champions League final, when he pointed to the side all the Chelsea kickers had gone previously, and striker Anelka fell for it. He’d studied the kickers just in case!. 

A better example is where the keeper puts the striker off – like Liverpool’s Grobellar in 1984 ECL final, when he did a “wobbly knees” dance just as the kicker was running up. 

In normal games, you won’t have seen this kicker before and certainly won’t have the data on past kicks that a pro might have. 

But you can certainly do the “wobbly knees” dance!

Final thoughts

Remember, the keeper is’t supposed to save a penalty – if it’s hit hard and accurately in the corners it should be a goal. 

So just choose a side, based upon reading any tips the sticker gives (last look, hip shape, etc), commit and dive that way. 

Trust your reflexes – the mind works very fast in these situations and you will find your arms throwing themselves out without you thinking much about it. That’s why we do so much reverse-reflex work. 

And if you get the chance to get into the head of the kicker and increase the stress they feel, do it. At least until the referee tells you to stop it!.

Tips for coaches – Confidence Cohesion Technique

Any coach can utilize these drills with their keeper. The objectives are the same – enhance footwork, follow the ball better with the eyes, and judge the flight of the ball.

A coach can use any one of the drills independently, and involve multiple players, especially attackers, to sharpen their skills too.

Try to encourage the keeper to use these skills – their footwork, their eyes and reflexes, and be brave to make the judgement calls and decisions that will come up regularly in games.