Indecisive? Pick the middle

"The goalkeeper picks a side and dives 93.7 percent of the time and just stands in the middle only 6.3 percent of the time. There was a clear bias toward action."

The Journal of Economic Psychology recently looked at the link between decision making and penalty kicks, and found, somewhat surprisingly, that goalkeepers might be better off doing nothing at all. 

Analyzing close to 300 penalty kick situations, the study considered goalkeeper’s decisions in regards to which direction to move towards, the area to which the ball was actually kicked, and most importantly, whether the penalty was actually blocked.

The conclusion? Goalkeepers dive right or left 93.7% of the time, and choose to remain in the center in only 6.3% of penalty kick situations.

The problem comes from the fact that the direction of penalty kicks were distributed much more evenly, with almost 30% of penalty kicks sent towards the center of the goal.

But if goalkeepers could “almost double their save percentage by doing nothing,” why do they almost always choose to dive?

The researchers point towards something called action bias. Essentially, there’s an accepted norm that goalkeepers dive when attempting to block penalty kicks. If they fail to block a penalty kick when diving, they are considered to have made an effort; if they stay in the center when a penalty tucks into a corner, they’re lazy, indecisive, and made no attempt to block the ball. Goalkeepers favor action because of social expectations.

Obviously, there’s not much time to consider the psychological implications of penalties when you’re standing between the posts during a cup final, but maybe doing nothing is worth a shot. [Posted by Maxi

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