“It’s a Battle of the Mind”

“When you miss a chance in open play, people don’t remember. When you miss a chance on a penalty, people remember,” said Alan Shearer, all-time leading goal scorer for Newcastle United of the EPL. Years later people talk about a missed penalty shot. People still talk about Baggio’s missed penalty kick at the 1994 Men’s World Cup Final in the USA.

Certainly people remember most when a missed penalty shot costs you the game. Yesterday, Alex Morgan bailed out Abby Wambach after her missed penalty shot against Columbia at the FIFA Women’s World Cup by scoring shortly after the miss to erase some people’s memory.

Later in the contest, the USA was awarded another penalty and everyone was wondering whether or not Wambach would be given another chance. She couldn’t miss two in a row could she? Instead Lloyd stepped up to the spot and scored. The USA won the game 2-0 to get to the quarter finals.

It’s not often that a player gets a chance to take two penalty shots in one game but when it happens, the coach has a big decision to make. In one way, you would assume that your best shot taker will regain their composure to do what they have done for you many times. In another case, you figure that their confidence may be a bit shattered and you cannot put them under that kind of pressure. Penalty shot taking is all in the mind isn’t it. Even for the coach!

In Sunday’s MLS match with the Vancouver Whitecaps the New York Red Bulls’ coach gave striker Bradley Wright-Phillips a second chance at taking a penalty shot in the game after missing his first. Consequently, Wright-Phillips became the first player in MLS history to miss two penalty shots in the same game. The Red Bulls lost 2-1 and ultimately, Wright-Phillips’ two missed scoring chances cost his team the game.

In my book, The Last 9 Seconds, I spend a full chapter on the psychological aspects of the penalty shot. Taken right out of the book, Shearer said, “It’s a battle of the mind. When I missed in one game, it was my responsibility that everyone went home miserable that evening. It took a while to get over that. Penalty shots don’t get any easier just because you have taken lots.”

In the 1999 Women’s World Cup Final, Brandi Chastain scored that memorable penalty shot goal that got her so excited that she took her shirt off after the ball went in the net to give the USA the World Cup. But fortunately for her, she had taken a shot on the Chinese goalkeeper before. She said, “She (Gao Hong) had psyched me out earlier. I looked up and caught her eye. Her gaze rattled me and my shot dinged off the crossbar.”

In her book It’s Not About the Bra, Chastain said, “There is no way I’d look into her eyes again. A penalty kick is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. No one really expects a keeper to save a PK, so she has nothing to lose. All the mental pressure weighs on the shooter.”

And how ironic is it that the USA’s quarter final match is against China. Should it go into penalty shots again, Wambach will certainly be asked to step up to the spot. Wow, what pressure.

Thanks for Reading,

John DeBenedictis






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