Saudi Journal of Sports Medicine

: 2022  |  Volume : 22  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 47--50

The secrets to saving soccer penalty kicks: An observation from coaching eyes

Nuruzzaman Nayan1, Muhammad Shahidul Islam2,  
1 First Team Goalkeeping Coach, Bashundhara Kings, Dhaka, Bangladesh
2 Office of Physical Education, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet, Bangladesh

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Muhammad Shahidul Islam
Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet


Penalty kicks are crucial in football games since the team that scores in the penalty kick has a better chance of winning. A goalie must use a number of strategy and skills to win this psychological combat between the penalty kicker and the goalkeeper. This research sheds light on the approaches to protect the penalty kicks. During the penalty kick, the goalkeeper may pay close attention to the direction of the penalty kicker's nonkicking foot's toe, inside of the knee of the kicking foot, the position of the patella/kneecap of the kicking foot, and the hip direction. The penalty kicker's eyes are usually observed right before the penalty kick. The penalty kicker would occasionally kick in one way while looking in the opposite direction. In addition, a goalie cannot be too low in set position because this will lengthen his reaction time to stop the ball, which is practically difficult to do for the top corners of the post. A goalie should watch plenty of videos of penalty kickers and study their techniques for taking penalties. In all aspects, and based on some proven studies, it is no surprise that retrieving a soccer penalty kick is a decisive component of winning against the opposition. Altogether, the goalkeeper's ability to save a penalty kick is mostly dependent on his or her cognitive-perceptual skills in soccer.

How to cite this article:
Nayan N, Islam MS. The secrets to saving soccer penalty kicks: An observation from coaching eyes.Saudi J Sports Med 2022;22:47-50

How to cite this URL:
Nayan N, Islam MS. The secrets to saving soccer penalty kicks: An observation from coaching eyes. Saudi J Sports Med [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Dec 8 ];22:47-50
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Soccer is defined as a high-intensity, intermittent team game[1],[2] that requires a variety of athletic actions, both with and without the use of a ball.[3],[4],[5] However, the players, on average, perform almost 700 turns and swerves at various angles.[6] In addition, rapid starts and stops, as well as quick changes in direction, are essential for effective performance.[7],[8] Players are needed to move quickly because of this requirement. As a result, physical fitness is essential for boosting field performance.[8],[9] On account of its recurrent movement capabilities and intellectual decision-making in the competition, soccer is an innovative and widely accepted game around the world.[10],[11] Despite the intense physical and mental exertion of the game of football, it is often not possible to determine the outcome of the game.[12] Since, many times, both teams have the same number of goals or neither team can score, a tie-breaker or a penalty shoot-out is required. In competitive knockout football tournaments, penalty kicks are crucial in determining the result of a game.[13] The Union of European Football Associations introduced penalty shoot-outs in 1976 (followed by the Federation International Football Association in 1978) to major tournaments as a means of deciding matches in the knockout phase when the score is a draw at the end of the match. Many big events have been decided by penalties; for example, in the 2018 World Cup, penalty shoot-outs decided 25% of the matches in the knockout stages.[14],[15]

The penalty kick is known as a spot-kick or direct free-kick in soccer. This kick is a free kick taken 12 yards, or 10.97 meters, from the goalpost with only the defending team's goalkeeper standing between the ball and the goal.[16] According to the International Football Association Board's most recent standards, the goalkeeper must always be aware that his one leg (at the minimum) must be on a goal line during the penalty shootout and he is not permitted to go forward until the ball has been kicked, giving the penalty kicker an advantage over the goalkeeper.[17] In addition, if at least one foot of the goalkeeper is not in the goal line at the time of the penalty kick, the goalkeeper will be cautioned with a yellow card and will be instructed to take that penalty again by the referee.[18]

 Importance of Penalty Kick or Tie-Breaker

The spot-kicks are taken during or after a game that is tied, which is influenced by the result of many World Cup and European Cup matches[19] or any other local league matches. Surprisingly, assuming the penalty kick is similar to a tie-breaker in a soccer game is a misunderstanding. During the usual course of a 90-min contest, penalty kicks are taken. In a match, if a footballer fouls an opponent inside his penalty area or gets the ball in his hand, or if something unexpected happens, the opposing team will be awarded with a penalty kick.[20] In addition, if the knockout stage of the tournament or the final is not decided at the end of the extra time, the winner of the match is determined by a penalty shootout or tie-breaker.[1],[5] Penalty kicks are crucial in football matches because the team that scores a penalty has a significantly better chance of winning.

 The Secrets of Penalty Kicks

The secrets of penalty kicks are hidden in a relatively short time frame. In this case, the final moment of the penalty kick is likely to be measured in fractions of seconds.[21] The performance of the kicker and goalkeeper during the fractions of seconds preceding the penalty kick determines the outcome of a match or championship, as well as the fortune of a team, club, even of a nation.[19] In other words, even though the penalty heavily favors the penalty kicker, only 75% of penalty kicks were successful. The poor penalty success percentage is partly due to penalty kickers' high level of nervousness, which is exacerbated by the fact that penalty kicks frequently determine a match's winner.[22] However, the playing environment of a soccer match is constantly shifting,[12] and players' movements, whether they have the ball or not, must be coordinated with the various interpersonal situations[23] that are highly reliant on their perceptual system. Hence, the soccer game is noted as open skill sport, but in the penalty kick, goalkeeping expertise is primarily a perceptual skill.[20] In contrast, a penalty kick occurs in a stable, predictable setting, and the participant understands the exact sequence of moves they must perform.[11] Goalkeepers must be master in penalty save tactics and strategies in this predictable situation, which may be referred to as closed skill.[24]

Goal-keeping ability plays an immense role in determining the winning flavor. Indeed, to succeed in this psychological battle between the penalty kicker and the goalkeeper, a goalkeeper has to employ some strategy and techniques. Besides, some coaches may utilize technology instead of just relying on tactics to guide their goalkeepers in modern football.

 Key Thoughts to Get Success During the Penalty Kicks

The goalkeeper may need to be focused on the following key points to get success during the penalty kicks:

Initially, the goalkeeper must have a basic understanding of the opposition team, including information on possible penalty kickers, such as how they kick the ball and from which position they prefer to kick the ball into the post.[21] This type of knowledge must be obtained with the assistance of goalkeeper coaches and team data analysts. Another approach to saving penalty kicks is to watch at least five penalty kicks from each opponent team player (preferred penalty takers) in the previous gamesThe goalie must maintain a physically dominant body language toward the penalty taker during the penalty kick that appears the goal post is small for the penalty taker.[25] In addition, the goalkeeper must be courageous and have faith in himself to return the most penalty kicks. However, the “set position” is when a goalkeeper assumes a stance in preparation for the next action he needs to take, such as catching or diving.[26] He cannot be too low in that set position since it will extend his reaction time to save the ball, and saving the ball from the top corner of the post is nearly impossibleThe goalkeeper may keep a sharp eye on the direction of the penalty taker's nonkicking foot's toe during the penalty kick. In general, the penalty kicker kicks toward the direction of his nonkicking foot's toe. Interestingly, some exceptional players can take the kicks one way by oppositely putting their toes on the nonkicking foot. In comparison to the toes, the hip alignment of penalty kickers is another crucial incidence for assuming the path of the penalty kick. The penalty kick can place exactly where the hips directions are. Therefore, soon before the penalty kick, the goalkeeper may pay attention to the hip direction of the penalty taker. On the other hand, it is typical to observe the penalty kicker's eyes immediately before the penalty kick. Sometimes, the penalty kicker would kick in one direction and gaze in the opposite direction. Particularly, in age-based games, the penalty kicker's eyes may be read[25]One of the strategies to prevent penalty kicks is to aim at the knees of the penalty kickers. If the right-footed penalty kicker's inside of the knee is open or visible to the goalkeeper soon before taking the penalty, he may kick to the left side of the goalkeeper. On the other hand, if the kicker's knee is straight or the patella/kneecap is pointing directly at the goalkeeper, he may kick to the goalkeeper's right side. It should be noted that the goalie must make a quick decision as soon as he notices the knee otherwise he would not have enough time to deal with it. Accordingly, he must be more attentive and focused on every moment. The overall procedure will be reversed in the case of the left-foot penalty kickers[21]Every day, a goalkeeper must assess a lot of videos in which penalty kickers are closely monitored and learn the strategies they use to take penalty kicks.[20]

In all the above aspects, the secrets to saving the soccer penalty kick are hidden in concentration, focus, attention, perception, reaction ability, anticipation, and decision-making capacity, all of which are referred to as cognition. The goalkeeper may pay close attention to the direction of the penalty kicker's nonkicking foot's toe, the inside of the knee of the kicking foot, the position of the patella/kneecap of the kicking foot, and the hip direction. After carefully examining this, the goalie may anticipate the penalty kicks direction before it is taken.

 The Cognitive Ability to Save Penalty Kicks

In a stressful and challenging situation, top-level sports performance necessitates the efficient functioning of various cognitive faculties such as concentration, decision-making, reaction ability, and working memory.[27] On the other hand, players' observation and information processing abilities improve as their cognitive ability grows, which is crucial for improving player performance.[28],[29] Saving penalty kicks is one of the most difficult tasks in the soccer game, and it is difficult to find a more anxious or stressful moment than the penalty kick moment in any sport. Psychological factors like fear and pressure are significant in overcoming the psychological battle between the penalty kicker and the goalkeeper. Various cognitive processes such as brain activity, active attention, executive functions, concentration, and reaction capacity are all improved by sports activity.[30],[31],[32] Surprisingly, saving a penalty kick in soccer and mastering goalkeeping essentially depend on cognitive-perceptual skills.


The present researchers agreed that delving into the secrets of penalty saves is challenging, but if the goalkeepers pay attention to the above details, they may be able to outsmart everyone else when it comes to saving penalty kicks. It is no surprise, on all counts, and with some proven findings, that the secret to returning a soccer penalty kick is a very important aspect of winning against the opponents. Despite the fact that the penalty save is acted upon by motor skills, the goalkeeper's ability to save a penalty kick is mostly dependent on his or her psychological skills. Altogether, there can be no doubt that penalty kick techniques are being quickly adopted by present-day coaches along with other coaching techniques.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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