A new study may explain why England keeps losing in penalty shootouts – and could help the team address the problem in time for the World Cup 2010. Research by the Exeter University shows for the first time the effect of anxiety on a footballer’s eye movements while taking a penalty
The study shows that when penalty takers are anxious they are more likely to look at and focus on the centrally positioned goalkeeper. Due to the tight coordination between gaze control and motor control, shots also tend to centralise, making them easier to save. The research is now published in the December 2009 edition of the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology.
The researchers attribute this change in eye movements and focus to anxiety.
Author Greg Wood of the Exeter Univeristy’s School of Sport and Health Sciences told the Devon Week: “During a highly stressful situation, we are more likely to be distracted by any threatening stimuli and focus on them, rather than the task in hand.
“Therefore, in a stressful penalty shootout, a footballer’s attention is likely to be directed towards the goalkeeper as opposed to the optimal scoring zones (just inside the post). This disrupts the aiming of the shot and increases the likelihood of subsequently hitting the shot towards the goalkeeper, making it easier to save.”