Anticipating the direction of soccer penalty shots depends on the speed and technique of the kick

Andrew H. Hunter, Sean C. Murphy, Michael J. Angilletta, Robbie S. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


To succeed at a sport, athletes must manage the biomechanical trade-offs that constrain their performance. Here, we investigate a previously unknown trade-off in soccer: how the speed of a kick makes the outcome more predictable to an opponent. For this analysis, we focused on penalty kicks to build on previous models of factors that influence scoring. More than 700 participants completed an online survey, watching videos of penalty shots from the perspective of a goalkeeper. Participants (ranging in soccer playing experience from never played to professional) watched 60 penalty kicks, each of which was occluded at a particular moment (−0.4 s to 0.0 s) before the kicker contacted the ball. For each kick, participants had to predict shot direction toward the goal (left or right). As expected, predictions became more accurate as time of occlusion approached ball contact. However, the effect of occlusion was more pronounced when players kicked with the side of the foot than when they kicked with the top of the foot (instep). For side-foot kicks, the direction of shots was predicted more accurately for faster kicks, especially when a large portion of the kicker’s approach was presented. Given the trade-off between kicking speed and directional predictability, a penalty kicker might benefit from kicking below their maximal speed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number73
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2018


  • Anticipation
  • Goalkeeper
  • Penalty
  • Shooting
  • Soccer
  • Speed
  • Trade-off

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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