Reply To: Preparing for penalties

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Preparing the team would involve developing a specific penalty shoot-out plan to help with anxiety, emotions, concentration and focus on the task at hand. These strategies should be incorporated as part of regular general training, so that when they are needed in a penalty shootout– “the training can take over”.

To manage the pressure/anxiety of the situation.
Engage slow deep breathing and centering to control the impact on (i) arousal levels: breathing, muscle tension, heart rate, sweating (ii) emotional reactions and intensity of them (iii) blocking of cognitive processing (concentration, attention and decision making). Imagery could involve slowly blowing out inflating a balloon and letting all your breath out which also brings attention to the center of the body around the stomach.

To manage the emotional reactions.
Get the team to increase their awareness of their negative emotions and related thoughts so they can take action to manage them. A way to help with this awareness could be a team discussion in training on how they felt (e.g. doubt, fear, embarrassment) and what they thought about losing the penalty shoot-out last time (e.g. thoughts of avoidance of losing VS the winning approach) and how they think it impacted on their performance.
When they are aware of unhelpful emotions and thoughts they can refocus by using parking, no blame team support, imagery editing, thought stoppage, replacing unhelpful thoughts with self-talk or defusion by not engaging with the thoughts

To manage cognitive processes (concentrate & refocus).
Use of simulation training to practice their coping strategies and reduce the impact on concentration and ability to refocus. For example, competition noises during training to like the whistle, crowd, announcements, other athletes and wearing competition uniforms rather than training gear.
Be aware and be able to engage the attentional focus (internal narrow – focus on their own technique) for the task at hand. Also an awareness and blocking ability for inappropriate attentional focuses like external-broad (getting distracted by noises like crowd chants) or broad-internal (indecision under pressure).
Use of triggers to refocus such as tapping the ball with your kicking foot or signaling the width of the goal with your hands to give your peripheral vision a guide.

To manage confidence for the skill required.
Use imagery for the team or each player of kicking the ball and watching it go into the goal with ease and how they would react getting the penalty shot. This imagery is essential to go through just before taking the shot. In addition, video modelling maybe helpful. They could video themselves kicking the ball into the goal with ease and running around in celebration afterwards.
When training and kicking the actual ball into the goal it can be helpful to do this at different speeds and focusing of different aspects of the movement (i.e. where to position the foot on the ball, the power behind the kick, the follow through with the leg) to help build clear neural pathways to get the automatic behavior you want (“let the training take over”).