What if the Argentina-Croatia semi goes to penalties?
Whenever Croatia are playing a World Cup knockout game, there’s a possibility that the result could be decided by a penalty shoot-out. According to sports psychologist Yanique Levy, penalty takers shoulder huge stress that can only be mitigated by...
Whenever Croatia are playing a World Cup knockout game, there’s a possibility that the result could be decided by a penalty shoot-out. According to sports psychologist Yanique Levy, penalty takers shoulder huge stress that can only be mitigated by preparation.
Levy has been watching keenly and after the 2022 World Cup semi-finalists had been determined in Qatar, the former Jamaica long jumper observed, “I see players who know what’s at stake because by the time you’re getting to the penalty shoot-out, you know, that’s what’s going to decide who wins or loses that game, who progresses to the final. So, it’s a lot of stress. It’s a lot of anxiety. There can be some doubt, which is something you definitely want to minimise.”
Holder of a doctorate in clinical psychology, Levy says a wide range of factors could put a player off.
“You have the other players. You know, we’re not privy to whatever they might be saying on the field. You have the spectators, what they’re saying, what they’re doing, how they’re cheering. You have things that have been said before the game, before the match, which might impact how the players are thinking and their level of confidence. So there are so many factors that can throw off an athlete’s thought process, focus and concentration, and heighten their anxiety and lessen their ability to manage their emotions and get into the zone, or the zone that they need to be in order to execute a successful attempt,” she enumerated.
Each team has a designated penalty taker, but shoot-outs start with five players from each team taking turns. Asked if the stress is more severe for those who aren’t regular penalty takers, the former ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Championships hurdles gold medallist emphasised preparation.
“One way to increase the likelihood of being successful,” she proposed, “is to train the kickers that you think are mentally strong and also good kickers, because you practise taking penalty shots to kind of reproduce some aspects of the shoot-out. And so, that makes some aspects automatic, and the player can actually focus more on the psychological aspects when actually taking the shoot-out in a game.”
Croatia won two penalty shoot-outs on the way to the 2018 World Cup final and have already beaten Japan and the top-ranked Brazil by the same method in Qatar.
If it gets to that stage in today’s game, TVJ World Cup analyst Andrew Price thinks the Croatians might have the advantage. “Croatia are built for penalties. They’re a tournament team. They know what it is to go to penalties,” Price remarked.
Many decry the shoot-out as a lottery, but according to Price, Croatia doesn’t care about that.
“In the back of their minds, they’re coming to grind it out any which way they can,” the 2019 Reggae Girlz World Cup assistant coach postulated.
“If you’re going into taking a shot thinking you’re going to miss, then you’re already twice defeated,” underlined Levy, who works with athletes in her own outfit, Freedom Psychological Services.
One key bit of advice from Levy for penalty takers was ‘composure’.
“If you rush into taking that penalty,” she cautioned, “then your movements will be more erratic, but it takes a lot of psychic energy, mental energy to kind of slow your thoughts down, that rush. We all know when we rush to do things, more mistakes are made.”