Mark Saggers and Micky Quinn from Talk Sport Radio interview football psychology expert Dan Abrahams ahead of England’s European Championships Quarter Final against Italy, about the football psychology behind penalties. Below the audio player is the written transcript for those that wish to read rather than listen.
Talk Sport – Let’s speak to Dan Abrahams, top football psychology expert, and a man that knows as well to be a professional sportsman, having been a professional golfer in his time. Hi Dan.
Dan Abrahams – Hi guys.
Talk Sport – I hate to talk about penalties of course because I want us to somehow manage to do this in normal time or even extra time, but there is at this stage of any football tournament inevitably the thoughts, particularly with our records that this is the way it might go.
Dan Abrahams – Sure, but I’m quite optimistic. The noises coming from Roy Hodgson and his football coaching staff, in terms of a football psychology perspective are quite good. He is talking about them practicing their penalties, which is the obvious thing to do. But it sounds to me like he is really putting an onus on practicing effectively. He is saying he is not letting players take penalties willy-nilly. He is making sure that those players pick a target, pick a spot, and do that consistently as they practice, rather than just taking the penalties that they want to. They are actually practicing the specific penalty that they are going to take. So at least that’s a step in the right direction.
Talk Sport – Dan what does pressure do to your football psychology when you are taking a penalty?
Dan Abrahams – Well let me give your listeners a good analogy here. Imagine a plank of wood in front of you ten metres long and a couple of feet wide. Now if I were to hoist that piece of wood a couple of feet off the ground you would walk across it easily. But if I were to hoist the plank of wood a thousand feet in the air and again ask you to walk across it, you probably wouldn’t do it. And that’s the same kind of feeling that these players get when they are taking these penalties. You have worry and doubt from a mental perspective. You perhaps see yourself missing. You feel uncomfortable. You feel out of control. And it really doesn’t matter whether you’re a world class footballer or whether you are a Sunday league footballer. The way the brain works, you get those thoughts and feelings.
Talk Sport – Do you have to as a manager though, let’s take the game tonight, Roy Hodgson will have in his mind who his one and four penalty takers are which are the two key positions, and that top five, what happens if somebody is still involved in the game, not been substituted or anything like that, but not having had the best of nights, is it good to change last minute or have you got to look and see whether they fancy it at that last minute, or do you stick with what you have already planned?
Dan Abrahams – In my opinion you have to have contingency plans, and knowing Roy Hodgson, I did a brief stint at the Fulham Academy a few years ago, it was known that this guy is a fantastic tactical football coach, somebody that knows how to get the best out of footballers. I would be shocked if he didn’t have contingency plans, if England go a goal down, if a player has a bad game, he is going to have those contingency plans in place.
Talk Sport – I tell you what Dan though on a personal level you can practice and practice, but when that moment comes, there’s doubt in your mind, as you walking up to take that penalty, the goal looks like a five aside goal, and the goalkeeper looks like the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk.
Dan Abrahams – Absolutely, and going back to my past and playing golf, when you have a two or three foot putt to win a tournament, and that ball looks massive but the hole looks tiny, so I have some sympathy with you. From a football psychology perspective you spend a lot of time working with footballers, giving them a routine. So just as a golfer will have a pre-shot routine, I would want penalty takers to have a pre-penalty routine. And that would start for instance as they are walking from the half way line to the penalty spot. I would want them to keep good body language, a very basic thing, but something that helps them feel like they can convert the penalty. Pick a small target because that’s the way the brain and nervous system work best. Visualise yourself executing the penalty perfectly, and then have one simple focus. Focus on a great strike on the football. And ultimately that’s all you can do. You know, if the goalkeeper gets a hand on it, well he saved it. Well done him. But what they must have is a routine that helps them execute this penalty effectively.
Talk Sport – Dan I wish I had met you when I was playing football because I think I scored 75% of the penalties that I took. What about the goalkeeper Dan? That’s the penalty taker but what about the goalkeeper’s mentality?
Dan Abrahams – You mentioned earlier that the goalkeeper looks big, and I know it’s obvious to state this, but the goalkeeper wants to get into the mind of the penalty taker. He wants to change that penalty takers perception. He achieves that through body language, he may talk to the penalty taker, he makes himself big. I think most goalkeepers these days have a system. You have so much football video analysis now. As Joe Hart has said, it only takes a few seconds on You Tube to study a penalty taker so that they have some idea where the penalty taker might take his penalty. So it is easier today, but at the end of the day if that footballer slots it in the corner of the net it’s often unreachable, so again you have to rationalise it.
Talk Sport – We it all sounds fascinating stuff and I’m sure that as you said, knowing Roy Hodgson that he’s done the business Dan, let’s keep our fingers crossed tonight that if we have to that it all goes to plan and they have done their work in the right way. Lovely to talk to you, that’s football psychology expert Dan Abrahams with his thoughts.