The Power of Preparation

How do you prepare for a World Cup penalty shootout?

Apparently you can’t… or can you?

Every time the World Cup comes around, we always get a couple of penalty shootouts, 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, or the same pressure of a penalty shoot-out’.

But if that were the case then the outcome would be completely random, yet some teams have tremendous records i.e. Germany, and some teams have less than stellar records. e.g. England.

But to say you cannot prepare for them immediately puts you on the path to failure. 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 approachand 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 mantra of many armed forces.

In military training, it is difficult to create the life-threatening feeling that you get during the 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, it was said that ‘their training resembled bloodless battles, and their battles bloody training’.

In golf, many of the professionals use the mantra practice 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 your 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 your technique by your side.

I have actually been involved in a penalty shootout myself, it was a cup semi-final, and it was 1-1 after extra-time so it all came down to penalties.

I was selected to take our 6th penalty if it was still level after the first 5 and it came to a sudden death shootout. 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 is following a different adage ‘If you fail to prepare, then you prepare to fail‘.

We mustn’t let this thinking 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 goalkeeper 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!’.

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