It’s the 90th minute, the striker is running through at you with a chance to clinch the 3 points for their team, they’re already thinking about their over-hyped robot celebration. But, you’re focused, determined and ready to spoil any potential dance off with the corer flag. Then, BANG, you’re clumsy centre half takes him down with a classic Vinnie Jones tackle, he’s given away a penalty, what a plonker. Your chance of being triumphant in that one vs one situation is gone. But, then your eyes light up as that light bulb goes off in your head. ‘Hold on a minute’ you think to yourself, ‘You absolute beauty, here comes my chance to be the hero for a change’.
Every Goalkeeper in the world loves a penalty, it’s one of those very rare ‘no lose’ situations that we crave as a Goalkeeper. Nobody expects you to pull off a worldy save, but if you do, then you shoot straight to the the top of the Christmas card list of the gaffer.
But, what do you do? Do you pick your favourite side, dive and hope for the best? Do you stay in the middle and hope the taker fluff’s their lines? We don’t buy into the theories of looking at the foot placement or the hip direction of the taker. Even catching a glimpse of their eye contact with a specific side of the goal is not a true indication of where the ball is going, as the chances are they are bluffing. As much as the game has evolved through technology and equipment, the players skill levels have evolved too with impressive techniques on how to strike a ball with a level of disguise that would be appreciated by an MI5 secret agent. So, what can you do to increase your chances of making the save? Well, we have some helpful tips for these situations that could help you bring that MOTM award back to your display cabinet.
Do your research- Before any match day, try and research your opponent’s penalty taker and how they have taken their previous penalties. Do they have a preferred side? Do they adopt the stutter run up? Do they place the ball high? Or, do they run at pace and strike the ball with power? Get to know the taker and their habits, this can only benefit you when it comes to that pivotal moment.
Now, we understand that at foundation and youth level this may not be possible, due to a lack of video footage, but there is other ways you can do this. Log on to social media and search for your opponent’s official club page, perhaps they have some highlights from previous games. Or, possibly a detailed match report with a description of where the No. 9 hit their penalty 3 weeks ago. With modern day technology, you really have no excuse to avoid doing your homework.
Distract the taker- Ok, this might not be the most sportsmanlike recommendation, but as long as you’re not throwing your Lucozade bottle at the taker, we’re all for a bit of friendly distraction. As they are placing the ball, have a conversation with them, let them know that the pressure is all on them. Nobody expects little old you to save the day, do they? If they are a confident individual, it may not effect them and the mental battle will still be 0-0. But, if you notice a nervous twitch or a reluctancy to participate within some friendly banter, then it’s 1-0 to the Goalkeeper, you now have the edge.
It’s important to make the goal look as small as possible, which may be easier for the Goalkeeper currently occupying the No.1 jersey In the local pub team sponsored by McDonalds, whilst inaccurately nicknamed ‘The Cat’, but for you we require a different tactic. Move across your line from side to side, as you await the referee to blow their whistle, have your arms outstretched in the infamous Michael Phelps winning pose. As you move around that goal, the taker is noticing that it’s not as big a target as they thought. But, always remember to be central within the goal and in your set-position as the taker is about to strike the ball.
Delay your decision- Don’t make your mind up early by choosing a side, chances are you will be sporting an impressive Superman top bin dive, before the taker has even hit the ball. Take all factors into account before you decide on your action. If the taker is adopting the stutter run up, definitely wait in the middle of your goal until the last possible moment before taking action. If the taker is running towards the ball with pace, you can then afford to act a split second before the ball is struck to increase the distance you can cover with a dive. If you show your cards too early, the taker will simply roll it in the other corner, game over. Stay big, read the body language, get a feel for the taker, a feel for the moment, then make your decision based on all the information you have processed.
Power step into the dive- According to the rules, Goalkeepers are not allowed to move off their line prior to the ball being struck, spoil sports. But, everyone likes to bend the rules every now and again. We encourage all Goalkeepers to start with their heels just touching the goal line, so the majority of your feet are closer to the penalty spot. Have your knees slightly bent in your set position and prepare to fly. Just before the taker is about to try and ruin your day, take a quick step off your line, in the direction you have chose to dive, then push off the front half of your foot and explode into the dive in a slightly forward motion. By diving at a slightly forward angle, you are reducing the space that the taker can shoot into, increasing your chances of making the save. Goalkeepers should always use a forward shape when diving, but we will cover this is another blog.
Proper hand placement- You’ve done it, you anticipated where they were going to direct the ball, you’re mid-dive and the ball is coming towards you, you absolute beauty! Now all you have to do is get your hands to it, sounds simple, but with reaction time against us, hand placement is vital. The chances of the penalty nesting in that top bin are slim, but if it does then sometimes you just need to say ‘Good penalty mate’ and move on. As you step into the dive, your hands must be in a position that can block a low shot, or a medium height shot. This way, you are giving yourself the best possible chance of parrying the ball away at two different heights. You can also quickly bring your two hands together to attempt the save if you have enough time. And, by the way, saving the penalty is good enough, don’t try to get one up on Superman by attempting to hold the shot to become the greatest Superhero on earth, nobody is going to get you two Christmas cards for that. If there is a decent amount of power in the penalty, simply parry the ball wide into a safe area and get yourself back up ready for any potential rebound. Then, once the ball is out of play, you can accept the high five from your relieved centre half who may just escape the wrath of the gaffer.
That about covers it for us. Of course there are many other techniques you could adopt, but for us, these tips will definitely increase your penalty save ratio. Feel free to take the friendly advice on board and good luck.