Penalty competitions are not decided by random luck. Teams from higher divisions win against lower division opponents more often than the reverse, by 8 percentage points. That advantage pales into insignificance compared to the benefits of going first in a penalty competition.
A 2010 study published in the American Economic Review found a systemic first-mover advantage. Teams going first in a penalty competition won on 60% of occasions. The study found players had more success taking a kick that would put them into the lead, than when they were merely drawing level.
The difference was most pronounced comparing a kick to win a competition, which had a 92% conversion rate, with a kick to avoid defeat, which was successful on 62% of occasions. This is a manifestation of Loss Aversion. The fear of losing something hugely impacts our behaviour, far more than the prospect of winning does. I could get distracted here and say the fear of losing 10-in-a-row took hold at Celtic Park, at the cost of where heads should have been.
Another 2010 study examined Emotional Contagion and penalty competitions. Players who celebrated after their kick were more likely to be on the winning side than those who quietly returned to the centre circle. Specifically, a player who immediately follows an opponent that celebrates extravagantly is more likely to miss than when this factor is controlled for.
This study’s conclusion is quite fascinating, “that emotional contagion is an important process in the context of elite sport performance.” From all these years writing and reading CQN, I could suggest that emotional contagion works in all aspects of life. It is a real thing that has an impact on those around us.
A 2012 article in Economic Inquiry promoted a tweak to penalty competitions. Instead of Team A always kicking ahead of Team B, it suggested Team A – Team B, then Team B – Team A, or ABBA, not ABAB. The ABBA system has been trialed and proven to eliminate the first-mover advantage, however, various authorities have thought it too confusing for fans!
Practice is a whole other area, one that was rejected on these shores for many years. The challenge here is that the problem for an elite professional is not to kick a ball 12 yards, but to do so in acute circumstances that are impossible to replicated on the training field.
A 2010 study out of University of Plymouth found that practice through Functional Imagery Training was found to improve penalty kick outcomes (other types of practice, which were used as a control, did not). So practice, but only if you know how to practice.
I also read a study that found if you are facing your own fans you are more likely to win a penalty competition, but I can’t find it……
We put a lot of work into finding advantages at Celtic. Improving penalty outcomes is one of the clearest benefits we can achieve. It is a bit too late for others.