Coaching tip: penalty shoot outs for youth players

If you look at youth soccer players at the club level and try to assess the reasons they miss penalty kicks you’ll come up with two main causes: general nerves and indecision. One, nerves, leads to the other, indecision, of course but if you can minimize indecision you stand a good chance that the nerves will also be somewhat abated.

So how do you get rid of indecision? You could tell the player exactly what you want them to do on the penalty kick so the decision is removed entirely from them. The problem with that is that you are likely asking them to do something they would not choose themselves and consequently you ratchet up the nerves which is counter productive.

What I find works well is to tell each player who’s going to take the penalty that it’s entirely up to them what they want to do with their PK but they must tell me, quietly, before they go to take it and they can’t change their mind.

So now they have ownership of the decision and can choose something in their comfort level. Because you’ve made them to commit to this decision they won’t go up and then have second thoughts or doubt. As a general rule, for young players, it’s about the best way you can mentally prepare them to take penalties. It obviously works better in a shootout competition at the end of a Cup game when you can be on the field with them and have the luxury of time to have that conversation but you could train your team to do it during games. You’d just need to identify who is talking the spot shots and have them quickly come to the sidelines to tell you what they’re going to do and then go over and follow through.

Anyone got any other advice for kids taking penalty kicks?

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4 Responses to Coaching tip: penalty shoot outs for youth players

  1. Rich H says:

    My U14 girls gold team played a Metro team in a friendly a few weeks ago. At the end of the game, just for fun we let them all take a penalty in a penalty shootout format. Success rate was less than 30%. Very poor for this level of player, especially when you consider there was no real pressure on them. In all there was about 35 pens taken.

    As I watched all the girls I realized what the problem was and what a great coaching tool this was becoming. Put simply the kids were concentrating on the desired outcome, scoring a goal, rather than the process that would achieve the desired outcome…an accurate firm shot on goal. Toward the end I took 3 of the girls who had missed aside and quickly used the ‘moment’ to coach. Simply, just change the focus from scoring a goal to a technically good firm accurate shot. All three scored. A great example of ‘process over outcome’.

    • Gregor says:

      Good point Rich. If you simply said to them “can you play a firm pass two feet inside the right post” and took the emphasis off the result and placed it on technique you’d probably get better results. At U14 very few keepers would get to the ‘firm pass’ just inside the post would they.

  2. Fred Cutler says:

    We had an regular PK during our dreadful 6-1 loss to Ladner in a tournament game on Sunday. Our goal was a fantastic, decisive, firm, low, penalty shot. The taker hadn’t read Gregor’s post, but he had read the section in Soccernomics on PKs. Similar take-home points, but with the bonus of an introduction to game theory!

    • Gregor says:

      I’ll need to pick up Soccernomics. I’ve had it recommended to me a few times. Thought I had it but got it confused with What Soccer Teaches the World.

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