Findings: How to net more saves

June 7, 2002

It may come too late to help England's chances in the World Cup, but researchers at Greenwich University have isolated key visual clues to help goalkeepers improve their chances of saving a penalty, writes Steve Farrar.

The study, by Al-Amin Kassam and Mark Goss-Sampson, involved West Ham United players and motion analysis to pick out a series of readable physical clues that predict the direction in which the ball will be hit.

Goalkeepers coached by the scientists improved their ability to forecast the penalty by 9 per cent.

A West Ham youth team striker was recorded by a camera behind a goal while he took 46 penalty kicks into the empty net. The images were relayed to a computer and evaluated by motion analysis software to pick out visual signals during the run-up and as the ball was about to be struck. The study focused on measuring the angles of the shoulders and the standing leg.

Ten goalkeepers were shown clips of each penalty, frozen just before the ball was kicked, and asked to predict which way it would go. They were then instructed on the visual clues identified by the researchers before taking the test once more. This time their prediction rate improved by 9 per cent.

"Many goalkeepers rely too much on their gut instinct and non-informative visual clues such as the direction a striker is looking when taking a penalty," Dr Goss-Sampson said. This often resulted in a misreading of the direction of the shot.

If the goalkeeper intensively concentrated on recognising the visual clues, however, his reactions become automatic, the speed of his response improves and he has a better chance of saving the penalty.

Mr Kassam said the goalkeeper could further improve his chances by increasing the psychological pressure on the penalty taker.

"This can be done by a goalkeeper employing time-wasting tactics, making himself look as large as possible and moving sideways on his line in order to confuse the striker as to where he is going to dive," he said.

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