I believe the penalty shootout is the most stressful aspect of the game of football. Though it is perceived by many football lovers as a cheap or easy way to score or win a match. As I take a critical look, I’m convinced otherwise.
The Penalty kick in football, like any “closed skill”, requires more than just mastery of skills and techniques of kicking the ball. It must be noted that mastery of skill increases self-confidence and promote more facilitative competitive state anxiety in athletes (elite football players). However, during a penalty shootout, a player’s ability to cope under pressure while reacting accordingly is vital to whether or not the kick will manifest into a goal.
Many players have been found to react or take the kick too quickly, as a mechanism to relieve themselves of the nervousness and anxiety prior to the kick. There’s an increased level of psychosocial demands or expectations on performers (players) during a penalty shootout, leading to higher levels of emotional stress experienced by athletes.
Researchers also found players experiencing higher levels of anxiety during penalty shootouts. According to (Jordet et al., 2007: 2008 ); Anxiety is the most common and relatively the most intense emotion felt by footballers during a penalty shootout. It has been seen that the higher the competitive pressure the fewer goals are scored respectively, during the penalty shootouts in football tournaments. Competitive stress or pressure is a derivative of the perceived relevance of the competition and the contribution of each shot. Elite players (athletes) are reported to experience a range of emotions.
These emotions may be positively toned or negatively toned. However, typical of all players, both positively and negatively toned emotions are experienced during a penalty shootout. Feeling certain, ready, determined, motivated, optimistic, enthusiastic, excited, energetic, attacking, charged, relaxed, are termed as positively toned emotions. Feeling anxious, nervous, tense, tired, uncertain, afraid are among the emotions that are termed as negatively toned according to (Jordet et al). The direction and intensity of these emotions are most certainly critical factors that could render the outcome of a penalty kick as facilitative or debilitative.
There are several other investigations into penalty shootouts that address the psychology surrounding penalty shootouts (mostly by Jordet, a high profile football psychology consultant and a professor in sports psychology)
The understanding of the psychosocial demands (stress), athlete’s emotional state and interactions between the player, the event ( perceived importance), and the environment or atmosphere; should lead to a holistic appreciation of the factors that influence the outcome of a penalty shootout. Coaches (technical team) and athletes (players) may pay critical attention to psychological preparations towards the event of a penalty shootout.
Acknowledging the immense demands of a single penalty kick will enable a full appreciation of such an event (penalty shootout) and may transpose the increased perception that a penalty kick is by far the easiest way to score goals. Or the penalty shootout is simply won with luck.