Boys soccer: A split-second decision

Goalkeepers must be quick of mind and body on penalty kicks


Penalty kicks have been labeled as a no-lose situation for soccer goalkeepers.

Shooters are expected to score, and the pressure is on them. If the keeper should make the save, he’s a hero.

“When I work with a goalkeeper I talk to them about watching any clues the shooter might give away like where they might look at the last second, where their plant foot is, if they open their hips or not,” said Legend coach Jordan Ivey. “Then I’ll talk to them about things they can do on the line that might throw the strike off a little. In the end though I tell them to go with their gut and go all out when they dive.”

There have been several studies made on penalty kicks.

One done at the 1998 World Cup, showed that on penalty kicks, including those in shootouts, 70 percent of the kicks went to the opposite side from the kicker’s dominate foot. A 2011 report published in the Journal of Psychological Science found keepers dove to the right 71 percent of the time when their team was losing and 48 percent when ahead and 49 percent when tied.

ESPN’s Sports Science claims saving a penalty kick is one of the toughest tasks in any sport and cites statistics that World Cup goalkeepers correctly picked the direction of penalty kicks 57 percent of the time but saved only 22 percent of the shots.

Legend senior goalie Eric Smith knows the chances of keepers stopping penalty kicks are not good.

“The odds are definitely stacked against us,” he said. “You have four different corners to dive to and pray we pick the right one. Sometimes we get a little lucky. Otherwise you don’t really have much of a chance.”

Smith has learned some tips to sway the odds a little in his favor.

“The first thing a lot of coaches actually teach you is to pick a side,” he said. “And then as you get more experience, take penalty kicks in practice or you start to get experience in games or in shootouts, you learn to pick up tell-tale signs of what way a person is going to kick the ball.

“So I look at the shooter and see what way he is lining up, if he’s right footed or left footed, depending upon certain signals he’s giving me, his eyes or something I’ll pick a side to go to either high or low. Left high, I’ll pick that first, but when he runs at the ball if I see like his hips switch to the right side or see his approach differently, I’ll make a split second decision. But before he evens runs at the ball I’ll have a side picked if he doesn’t give me any other sign.”

Valor Christian senior goalie Connor Georgopulos, a four-year starter, acknowledges that stopping a shot from a shooter 12 yards in front of him is difficult.

“It is probably the hardest thing about being a goalkeeper,” said Georgopulos. “A lot people guess before the player even runs up to the ball. I don’t like to guess. I kind of wait until he runs up where he is opening his hips or where his foot is planted and make my decision that way. I have possibly a second to make a decision.

“I’ve heard that is a no-lose situation but there are sometimes when you are close and you think you could have got there or you might have been able to get there. It still is a goal and you feel like you’ve lost but for the most part it is just luck so you really didn’t lose either way.”

Cherry Creek coach Chelo Curi believes keepers need to pay more attention to the shooters than relying on luck.

“Goalkeepers need to learn to recognize player movement in order to predict which way they are going to shoot a penalty kick,” said Curi. “They can also just flat-out guess one way or the other. However, there are certain clues top-level keepers learn in order to make a better educated guess on which way to go. Some goalkeepers are quite good at this skill while others are not.”


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