5 Top Tips for a Penalty Shoot-Out

The Under 16s at my club were playing in the semi-final of the cup last week so I went along to give my support as I coach most of the players involved at this age group.

Before the game I spoke to the manager and asked him if he had prepped the boys on a penalty shoot-out should they need one. He was quite dismissive of the need to practice – even for his goalkeeper.

It was a fantastic game with lots of chances for both teams but needless to say the game ended in a 1-1 draw and the match went to penalties.

Like it or not, penalty kicks are the ultimate dead ball 1v1 showdown, so give your team the best chance of winning by coaching the player who has most influence – the keeper!

Interestingly enough I was fresh from a mini tournament which my Under 10s won on penalties… on this occasion it was the opposition who hadn’t prepared well enough while we had done some work for this eventuality.

My goalkeeper saved two of their efforts, and another missed the goal completely. We, on the other hand, hit the target every time and their keeper only got in the way of one shot. I could tell my players were thrilled by the way we had won.

But even before the first kick was taken, I knew we had an advantage. In training, I had spent time with my shot-stopper, going through different penalty scenarios. I stood next to him in the goal and, as each player approached, got him to say which way he thought he should dive.

He didn’t have to save the penalty, rather just shout out where the ball would go. Because I was standing beside my goalkeeper when this was happening, I could see the way players were approaching the ball. The first five shots he guessed wrong, so I shouted out the next five, getting three correct.

He was impressed, but I pointed out it was made slightly easier if he knew what to look out for. I told him the theory behind “reading” penalties. Sure enough, the next time he guessed correctly twice, then three times. There are five top tips for keepers who want to read which way a shot will go. The secret is in the fact that it’s difficult for young penalty takers to disguise the direction of the ball because they concentrate so hard on hitting the target.

5 tips for a penalty shoot-out

  1. Tell your keeper to watch the penalty taker’s eyes and body shape. Before young players shoot they often look at the corner to which they are going to direct the ball.
  2. Keepers must also measure the player’s approach. A very wide approach often indicates the shooter is going towards the opposite corner. A straight-on approach gives fewer clues.
  3. Get your players to look out for the standing foot too. The ball often goes where the standing foot points.
  4. And then we have the hips. The ball always heads to where the hips point. A side-foot shot will require the hips to open up in the direction the ball is going.
  5. Even the head gives clues. If junior penalty takers drop their heads low and have a big backswing, expect a cross-body shot. If the head stays up, the player is probably going for the opposite corner.