How to win a penalty shoot out

People who fail to prepare, prepare to fail. People who prepare, prepare to win.

No coach goes into a cup match expecting to be involved in a penalty shoot-out. But many cup ties end up that way and it is sensible to get your players as prepared as they can be for the “lottery” of a shoot-out.

In this article, I’ll look at ways you can help your penalty takers have the confidence to put away their spot kicks. The next newsletter will look at penalty shoot-outs from the goalkeeper’s point of view.

The format of a penalty shoot-out

Penalty shoot-outs usually involve five outfield players from each team taking it in turns to take penalties.

When both teams have taken their allotted five spot kicks, the team that scored the most goals wins.

If the scores are still level after five spot kicks each, the penalties continue in a sudden-death format until one team misses and the other scores.

The rules

The shoot-out begins with the referee tossing a coin. The winning captain decides which end the penalties will be taken at or which team takes the first penalty.

Five players from each team are nominated to take the spot kicks and the rest of the players wait in the or near the centre circle.

The penalties themselves are taken in the same way as in normal play. See FIFA Law 14 for details.

Notes: Only players who are on the field of play at the end of the match can take the penalties. You can’t bring on a specialist penalty taker!

And no player can take more than one penalty unless every player on his team has taken one.

The penalty taker can feint during but not at end of her run-up. If a player does stop when she gets to the ball in an attempt to deceive the keeper and she scores, she will be cautioned and the kick will be retaken. If the shot is saved anyway, the kick won’t be retaken but the player will still be cautioned.

Taking a penalty – the technique

  • Choose the surface – young players can kick the ball powerfully with their instep but often find it hard to be accurate. A firm side-foot shot, on the other hand, should be powerful enough from just eight or 12 yards and it is much more accurate.
  • Aim just inside the post – while it is easier to shoot into the bottom corners of the goal, if the goalkeeper guesses correctly, she could pull off a save. But if your players shoot into the top corner, the shot is virtually unstoppable.
  • Make your mind up – wherever your players are going to try to place the ball, make sure they know where they are going to shoot before they start their run-up and tell them not to change their minds as they approach the ball.
  • Ignore the goalkeeper – imagine the keeper is not there. It’s just you, the ball and an empty net.
  • You’ve scored! – visualising the ball smashing into the back of the net may also help.

Practice by playing a small-sided game (SSG) in which players take penalty kicks in place of corner kicks. Alternatively, play three corners = one penalty.

To encourage shooting into the corners of the goal, place small cones one yard inside the posts. A penalty scored between the cone and the post counts double.

You could also hang a target in the top corners. My girls (bless them!) like to shoot at stuffed teddy bears that are strung up in the corners of the goal.

Taking a penalty – the psychology

Effective preparation is important but there are also some key psychological issues involved in successful penalty taking.

Clwyd Jones, a lecturer at Southampton Solent’s Lawrie McMenemy Centre for Football Research says that it is vital to forget about occasions in the past when you’ve missed a spot kick or failed to save one.

It is also important your players don’t think about the future either.

Thoughts such as: “What will the coach/my parents/my team mates say if I miss?” will cause them to tense up and make a miss much more likely.

So no thinking about what happened in the past or what might happen if they fail to convert their spot kick.

Players have to stay in the present and focus on the task in hand to the exclusion of everything else.

What to say to your players before the shoot-out

The final whistle blows. It’s a tied game and you’re going to penalties.

Your players are looking to you for guidance and reassurance. What do you say to them?

Tell them how well they’ve played during the match, how well they’ve played all season and how the outcome of the penalty shoot-out won’t change any of that.

Remind your five volunteers to pick their spot before they approach the ball and imagine that the keeper isn’t there.


Your team’s chances of winning a penalty shoot-out are, to a great extent, dependent on how well you’ve prepared your players.

But there are some things you can’t control. Goalkeepers can make wonder saves, spot kick takers can stumble during their run-up and you never really know what’s going on in your players’ minds.

So if you lose, be proud of what your team has achieved. If you win, just breathe a big sigh of relief…

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