Whilst kicking a ball into the goal from twelve yards shouldn’t theoretically prove to be much of a challenge for a professional or international footballer, many of them still fail from the spot. Seemingly, none more so than the growing list of England players at major tournaments.
With a World Cup coming up, 100 days to go in fact, the smart money would be on a bet which goes along the lines of “England to go out on penalties”. Whilst that may be a very pessimistic view, due to the regularity of England being knocked out of major tournaments in this way, the words “England national team” and “penalty heartbreak” have become almost synonymous. Given England’s (very) poor record in shootouts, it doesn’t give much reason to be optimistic going into Brazil.
One of the reasons behind England’s shortcomings from the spot is that, due to the aforementioned hoodoo, the pressure often gets to the players’ heads. No amount of practice can properly prepare a player for that scenario of walking from the half-way line to the spot and having to face the opposition goalkeeper as well as the watching world. It simply can’t be replicated. Therefore, the appointment of Dr Steve Peters as sports psychologist in order to help England players overcome these aforementioned mental barriers could help improve our prospects.
We as a nation have become used to being let down and the players themselves are always carrying the burden of having to turn that around. Spain were another nation who had become equally accustomed to failure and falling short of expectations, but now they are the defending world champions going into Brazil and they’ve also won the last two European Championships. They had gone as long as England without winning a major tournament and whilst not employing a psychologist, it proves that it can be done.
What the Spanish team had was a squad which became the envy of the world and lots of self-confidence to go with it. Naturally, one tournament success led to another and now they’re considered as one of the best (if not the best) national team in the world and one of the favourites to retain the World Cup. Undeniably, England can’t match their talent but what we can do to ensure success is to make sure we have a mental edge. The mental aspect of the game is hugely important and it can be the deciding factor in close games (and of course penalty shootouts). At the World Cup it’s very likely that this will happen a lot so quite often it will be the most resilient, most hardened, ruthless team will come out on top. It’s quite literally a case of “survival of the fittest”. Hence the success of Germany. They have a very capable squad but this would be worthless if they didn’t have the determination to go the extra mile in matches and if a winning mentality wasn’t instilled in them.
Therefore, if England are to succeed at the World Cup and possibly break the penalty hoodoo, we need to gain this mental edge that has been lacking in previous tournaments. Dr Peters’ appointment could be a step in the right direction. However, we’ll only be able to find out if and when England’s World Cup hopes and dreams rest on the outcome of a penalty shootout.