world cup 2014 primer – the penalty kick

penalty kick 2

” i think there’s certain techniques that you can do,’he said ‘ nine times out of ten if you miss a penalty it’s between the walk from the hallway line, in penalty shootouts, and the placing of the ball. so what i’m saying is, it’s your mind where you’ve missed it. i think nine out of ten you can tell if a player’s gonna miss it. with how he reacts, what his eyes are doing, when he gets the ball on the spot. and that walk between the hallway line to the spot is definitely,definitely the time when you’ve scored it or you’ve missed it, in the mind.’

kick takers in a shootout score at a rate of 92 percent when the score is tied and a goal ensures their side an immediate win.
but when they need to score to tie the shootout, with a miss meaning defeat, the success rate drops to 60 percent.
shooting percentages tend to drop with each successive kick —
86.6 percent for the first shooter,
81.7 for the second,
79.3 for the third and so on !

it is said a player who celebrates demonstratively after scoring increases the chance that his teammates will score later in the shootout and also increases the likelihood that the opposing player who shoots immediately after him will miss.

the PFC (prefrontal cortex) is the pinnacle of brain evolution.
it can basically look forward in time, and decide what actions to take.
the PFC is great for long-term goals, to make yourself do something from which you get no immediate benefit: waking up at 6AM to go running, skipping dessert, enduring the tedium of hours and hours of kicking a ball against a wall.

However, it comes with a cost.
While most brain areas live fully present in the moment, the PFC is painfully aware of the consequences of your actions.
It has many connections to the emotional areas of the brain, and is thus influenced by the joy of anticipated victory or the agony of foreseen defeat.

On the one hand the prefrontal cortex can plan what to wear to the victory parade, and decide which supermodel to bring to which club.
On the other hand it can also envision a country devastated by loss, and a future filled with broken dreams.

It can make a hell of heaven or a heaven of hell, but it cannot make a penalty kick !

The part of brain directly responsible for kicking balls is the small central strip on the top called the primary motor cortex (PMC).
The PMC sends specific instructions to muscles where to move and how much.
It’s part of the frontal lobe, but not far forward enough to be pre-frontal.

The PMC contains a representation of every muscle in the body.
It acts like a voodoo doll: a little poke elicits a twitch from the corresponding area of the body.

The PMC gets input from the supplementary motor area (SMA), which lies in front, but not quite prefrontal.
The SMA works a little more abstractly, planning specific movements, getting prepared for what to do.
The SMA gets input from the PFC.

Thus the PFC decides what to do, and then delegates to the SMA and PMC to do it.
The SMA and PMC and all the unconscious motor areas of the brain (like the basal ganglia and cerebellum) know exactly how to kick a ball into the corner of the goal.

It’s the same skill they’ve practiced for thousands and thousands of hours since they were 6 years old.
They don’t need conscious intervention from the PFC.

All the PFC has to do is say where it wants the ball kicked, and how hard.
Unfortunately the PFC is distracted by the possibility of lucrative shoe endorsements or perhaps too concerned with breaking the hearts of his teammates.

The PFC thinks about kicking the ball to the right, but knows that’s maybe what the keeper is expecting.
So it thinks about kicking the ball to the left, but knows that the keeper might anticipate that too.
It can see all the negative consequences and thus leaves itself without any good options, and also leaves the SMA and PMC without clear instructions.

Great athletes are able to silence their PFCs under pressure, and just live in the moment, but even the best can’t do it all the time .
so, how can you make a penalty kick with the whole world watching, and your whole future sitting at your feet?

you just do it.
though that’s easier said than done.

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