On Monday I was at Wembley to see my adopted hometown team, Reading, play Huddersfield in the Championship play-off final. It’s the most expensive game in football with £290 million up for grabs for the winner. As such it was a tense and cagey affair, ending with every football fan’s worst nightmare: the penalty shootout. Huddersfield won to complete an agonising defeat that left me to ponder what might have been…
Improving Your Chances
Consequently I started thinking about the psychology of the shootout. I can’t imagine the pressure the players must have been under taking penalties on Monday; indeed that pressure is impossible to recreate anywhere else. But what can you do to improve your chances of scoring, or saving, a penalty in a shootout? I decided to have a look, and came across a fantastic article by the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES). It suggests great methods for increasing the probability of succeeding and interestingly they all emphasise one thing: the importance of practice.
Think about two players about to take a penalty in an important shootout. The first is taking his first ever penalty, the second has taken 100 in training. Who is more likely to feel nervous and miss? Who is more likely to be confident and score?
The same goes for the workplace. We are often under pressure to provide results, and our success is affected by how confident and competent we are. Every now and then we need to make significant decisions that will affect future results, and these can be unexpected. So how do we prepare ourselves for these decisions? How do we ensure we have the skills and the confidence to succeed in our own penalty shootout moments?
Mental vs Physical Practice
The answer is we practice – we take part in training to improve our abilities. The BASES report shows you need a mixture of mental and physical practice, but this is sadly where many training programmes fall down.
Firstly the BASES report suggests reviewing video footage. This is where you watch videos of opposition players taking/saving penalties to see what they usually do. In a workplace training environment this represents the theory. We take in all the information we can to understand our environment and what we can do to succeed in the future. But this alone isn’t enough to become effective; what use is knowing which way the striker will shoot if you don’t know how to save it?
This is why the majority of BASES recommendations are physical drills on the training pitch that allow players to develop skills in a ‘safe’ environment. This is so that they have far better confidence in their abilities when they get to the real thing. Making learning and development programmes active and physically immersive gives your team the same benefits.
Why is sophisticated gameplay so important?
Theory is key, there’s no doubt about that. But what’s more important is allowing people the opportunity to practice theory and experience situations in a place where they feel comfortable making mistakes. By exploring workplace situations through gameplay, you separate the skills from the pressure. This means people start with more confidence, and by succeeding in these activities they build further confidence. This means when that situation happens in a pressured workplace environment, they can draw on previous successes and thus be more likely to succeed.
In short including sophisticated gameplay in training programmes provides the key to success because it empowers people to believe in themselves and their abilities. If you can do that, you can make sure that in your next penalty shootout moment your team are more likely to score than miss.