A penalty kick is generally regarded as one of the most nerve-racking situations in soccer. Whether they occur during regular play or after as a tie-breaker, penalty kicks can have an extreme impact on the outcome of a game. Because of their importance, both the goalkeeper and the shooter usually feel enormous pressure to save or make the shot. This article will explore the different techniques to saving a penalty kick and offer some valuable information for goalkeepers looking to gain the upper hand.

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In high-pressure situations such as the penalty kick, an elite goalkeeper needs to be both mentally and technically sound. Developing mental skills such as visualization, stress management, and goal setting are just as important as your reaction time and your ability to read the shooter. Most high level coaches and players will agree that a penalty kick is largely a mental game rather than a physical one, and top goalkeepers know that what goes on between the ears is just as important as what happens between the posts. Perfecting these mental techniques will surely lead to a greater success rate.

When it comes to your physical training, I’m sure you have heard varying opinions on how to stop a penalty kick. Generally, there are two schools of thought when it comes to saving a penalty kick: 1. Read the shooter’s body language and ‘guess’ which direction the shot will go, and 2. React to the shot as soon as possible and don’t try to ‘guess’.

Both strategies have their pros and cons. For instance, relying solely on a player’s body language will leave you vulnerable if the shooter changes their mind or if the ball is miss-hit. However, with only half a second to react, any clues about the direction of the shot will come in handy. For this reason, coaches and trainers will often suggest a combination of these two strategies. By reacting as soon as the kicker makes contact with the ball and observing as much as you can about the shooter beforehand, (like their kicking foot, where they make eye contact, how they line up to kick the ball, where their hips and plant foot are during the final stages of the kick, and even their past penalty kicks) you will have an excellent chance at making the save.

If you feel like spicing up your penalty kick strategy, several tricks of the trade exist in the goalkeeping world, such as: distracting the shooter by jumping or waving your arms, or standing slightly off-center to trick the shooter into thinking there is more room on one side than the other. In fact, a study by professors at the University of Exeter (UK) found that a shot is saved or hit closer to a moving goalkeeper than one who is stationary (Wood and Wilson 2010). Research also indicates that elite goalkeepers will stand marginally left or right of goal center 96% of the time, and that “it is feasible for a goalkeeper to influence perceptions of area and consequently the direction of penalty kicks” (Masters et al 2007).

Lastly, don’t be discouraged if you don’t save a penalty kick. Generally, 75-85% of all penalty kicks result in goals (McGarry & Franks 2000). The pressure to score lies entirely on the shooter, and making save is an incredible accomplishment. As with any skill, practice makes perfect. Taking as many penalty kicks as you can will significantly increase your chances of saving a shot. And as always, practicing the mental skills is crucial. Follow these simple guidelines and you will be well on your way to mastering the penalty kick!


  • Masters, R.S.W., Van der Kamp, J., & Jackson, R.C. (2007) Imperceptibly off-center goalkeepers influence penalty-kick direction in soccer. Association for Psychological Science. 18(3):222-223
  • McGarry, T.,& Franks, I.M. (2000) On winning the penalty shoot-out in soccer. Journal of Sports Sciences. 18(6):401–409.
  • Wood, G., & Wilson, M. (2010) A moving goalkeeper distracts penalty takers and impairs shooting accuracy. Journal of Sport Sciences. 28(9): 937-947