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People often talk about penalty kicks in soccer/football as if they were a guessing game, where the keeper tries to guess to what part of goal the the penalty-taker is going to kick the ball before the ball is even struck. Economists have studied it as a game theory problem, like a slightly more complex version of rock/paper/scissors that plays out on a human scale.

But of course there must be some skill in it. How frequently can a professional goalkeeper save penalties taken by, say, a typical teenager who plays on a varsity team at his high school (or whatever the non-American equivalent is)? What if we flip the roles around: how would a professional penalty-taker perform against a non-professional goalkeeper?

  • I doubt there's a non-opinion answer to this. Certainly it makes a difference - someone who can strike the ball harder will more often score even if the keeper guesses correctly, and if I were taking a penalty the goalkeeper could wait until I had committed to one direction or another (and likely until the ball had started moving) to commit, and I doubt I could save more than a small fraction of penalties taken by David Beckham even if he told me where he was going to go. But I can't imagine there have been tests done on this? – Joe Mar 11 '15 at 17:42
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Beyond a high school varsity player cannot kick as hard or as accurate is that the high school player would be much more apt to give away kick positioning through their body language, strike approach, and certainly their leg/torso positioning on a follow through.

As a goalie in soccer for 15 years and some for a top 25 high school I can say that there are kicks you can see before they leave the foot.

I compare this to a study that ESPN did a few years ago having major league baseball players try to hit softballs thrown underhanded. Because the players did not have any mental ques they couldn't get a bat on anything. Hitting a 95 MPH fastball was the years that they got used to release point, spin, arm action, leg follow through and so on. There is no way without this that their reflexes could react in time. Studies have shown in baseball that a player has to start their swing when the ball is 1/4th of the way to the plate.

I would imagine that a professional soccer goalie by that time in their life has seen possibly a million balls kicked at them. The best goalies will index things like strike angle, leg position, body position, torso turn, ball spin... And keep track of what the ball did based on all of these things.

A high schooler might be a dead give away just looking at their plant foot. If I saw someone plant early I would guess that they were pushing the ball and if late, pulling the ball. A high schooler would have a much much harder time hiding things like this, while maintaining ball speed, approach speed, and accuracy.

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Professionals will be able to aim better and shoot harder. Keepers must be able to see where the shooter is aiming at, before he shoots. (if the keeper dives when the professional has already shot, the keeper will mostly be too late).

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With the shooter having full control of the situation a more experienced shooter/ penalty taker would be able to trick a less experienced keeper far easier than a experienced keeper. whereas a more experienced keeper may still be tricked fairly easy by a lower experienced taker as luck plays a very big part in the keepers game in this situation.

The fact that it is a free kick that other opposing players cannot intercept it puts the shooter in a very advantageous position and a penalty to the keeper and the opposing team as the name suggests. this means that the keeper is always going to be handicapped in this situation.

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