Every time the World Cup comes around we always get a couple of penalty shoot outs, and every year we hear the same comments from the experts. ‘they’re impossible to train for because you can’t recreate the same conditions, the same atmosphere, the same pressure of a penalty shoot out’.
But if that was the case then the outcome would be completely random, yet some team have tremendous records i.e. Germany, and some teams teams have less than stellar records. e.g. England.
But to say you cannot prepare for them immediately puts you on the path to fail. Yes it might be difficult to prepare for the pressure or the atmosphere, but what we can work on is our technique.
If we have great technique then this will combat some of that pressure we feel, the nerves of worrying about being the player who cost our team their World Cup dream.
If your technique it just ok, then for sure the pressure will have a much greater impact and will reduce you to a gibbering wreck.
Whereas if you have perfect technique, then under pressure you can fall back on that, confident that even though it’s very stressful at least you have great technique.
Too many of the teams take this you can’t create it approach‘and consequently only do limited practice.
But this flies in the face of conventional wisdom which we use in so many other areas, such as ‘Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance’ which was the manta of many armed forces.
In military training it is difficult to create the life threatening feeling that you get during war, yet armies, train, train and train again, drilling into their soldiers with the skills needed to fight under the most stressful circumstances.
A significant part of the success of the Roman army was put down to their training, in fact it was said that ‘their training resembled bloodless battles, and their battles bloody training’.
In golf, many of the professionals use the mantra practise makes permanent, they spend hours and hours out on the putting greens practising their techniques.
I remember an interview with Colin Montgomery who said that to finish his training sessions he would make 100 successful putts from 6 feet, and if he missed, he would start again, he couldn’t leave until he had been successful.
With diligence like that you technique becomes ingrained, it becomes something that you can rely on, no matter how tired, how stressed or how much pressure you will always have you technique by your side.
I have actually been involved in a penalty shoot out myself, it was cup semi-final, and it was 1-1 after extra-time so it all came down to penalties.
I was selected to take our 6 penalty if it was still level after the first 5 and it came to sudden death shoot out. After 4 penalties each we were level, then our captain stepped up to score to make it 5-4, and as their player stepped up, if he missed we won, if he scored then I would be next to take a penalty.
At that moment my legs were like jelly, and the only thought running through my mind was, I wish I’d practised more penalties, I wish I’d practise more penalties. Fortunately for me, their player missed and we won and went through to the final, which we lost, but fortunately we didn’t lose that day because I hadn’t practised taking penalties.
To say that you cannot recreate the situation and then decide therefore not to prepare, that’s following a different adage ‘if you fail to prepare, then you prepare to fail‘.
We mustn’t let this thinking like this cloud our judgement, of course luck can play a part, the ball might hit the post and deflect away from the goal rather than towards it, or maybe the goal keeper guesses correctly and makes a fantastic save.
But the more we practice, the more permanent we make the technique, and if we want to rely on luck then we should remember the words of the famous South African golfer Gary player, who I think summed it up perfectly, ‘the harder i practise the luckier i get!’.