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How to Defend a Penalty Kick in Soccer

While penalty kicks are theoretically impossible to save if taken properly by the shooter, history shows that goalkeepers stand a fighting chance. There are so many factors that come into play that a keeper should view every penalty kick as a savable one. With that in mind, here are the ways in which you can maximize the chance of coming up with a big stop in the clutch.

Goalkeeper Selection

It is highly unconventional, but occasionally coaches will elect to swap goalkeepers for penalty shootouts. Playing the goalkeeper position during a game requires a tremendous knowledge of timing and an acute sense of positioning, but goalkeeping in a penalty shootout is much more instinctive and reactionary. If you have a backup goalkeeper who has tremendous athleticism and sharp reflexes, it might be wise to consider swapping him in.

Mental Preparation

The most important thing prior to defending a penalty shot is to stay calm. Come up with a game plan before the shot is taken, and stick to it. If you have an opportunity to research your opponent before the match, take it. Knowing which side a shooter prefers is an edge that could help you come up with a big save. Be aware during the match, and keep mental notes of where players prefer to target the net.

Some shooting players like to play mind games with the goalkeeper, but this practice can be dangerous. Don’t fall for any of the opposing players trickery. Stick to your game plan.

Reading the Shooter

Although taking a penalty shot is primarily a physical act, a lot of what happens is determined before the kick is taken.

If an attacking player continually eyes a certain corner of the goal, it could be an indication of where they intend to kick. It also could be psyche-out in order to bait you into jumping there. That’s where the skills of perception truly come into play. Your ability to read these situations will improve over time, so never overlook the an opportunity to gain an edge.

In the 1986 European Cup Final, Steaua Bucharest goalkeeper Helmuth Duckadam saved a record 4 consecutive penalty kicks against Barcelona. Thankfully, his efforts were enough to secure the historic win!

Defending Penalty Kicks

As noted above, penalty kicks are essentially a crapshoot. The game is skewed in the attacking players favor, and theoretically it should be impossible for a goalkeeper to save a penalty. However, there are so many factors that come into play, most notably human error, that the keeper actually has a fighting chance.

There are various schools of thought on how to defend penalties, but the two primary methods are: Reactionary defending and guessing which way the player will shoot.

Reactionary defending is employed by keepers who have very good reflex response time, and have faith in their ability to get to a ball after they already know where it’s going.

Guessing is less reliable, but it is often the only way you can get to a ball quickly enough. In most instances, there just isn’t enough time for your brain to process the ball's direction before it’s already in the net. Thus, the only way to save it is to pick a side, and hope you get lucky.

Both methods have merit, and it would be best to assess the quality of your opponent before deciding which way to go.

Penalty Kick Infractions

For the most part, penalty shots are pretty straight forward, but there are two primary rules that must be followed while taking a penalty. The first relates to the shooter, and the second relates to the goalkeeper.

Shooter Infractions

The player who is shooting must continue forward momentum once they advance towards the ball. If the shooter stops on his way toward the ball, whatever happens afterward is null and void. The referee will blow his whistle and the kick will be retaken.

Goalkeeper Infractions

The goalkeeper must stay on the goal liken until the ball is struck. The keeper can move horizontally along the goal line at all times, but if they come off the goal line early, the referee will blow his whistle and the kick will be retaken.

Playing the Odds

As a goalkeeper you must accept the fact that in penalty kicks the odds are stacked in the shooter's favor. Remember that the opposing team also has a goalkeeper who is in the same position you are. The question is: Who will rise to the occasion? If you stick to the fundamentals and make good choices, you are likely to come out on the winning side.

This guide covers the unenviable task of defending penalty kicks. Mental preparation, reading the attacker, and keeper form are addressed within.
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