Penalty shoot-out tutorial

Scoring wins games. Defense wins championships. If you can prevent a team with a few strong players from scoring, the match goes to a penalty shootout.

Read Law 10: The Outcome

Before you get to a penalty shoot-out

  • If you think you got lucky and the team has a few good scorers, don’t let this happen. Rotate players through all positions during pool play, and focus your coaching efforts on building up the skill of the weakest players. That way, if the opposing team shuts down the top scorers by outnumbering them in a tournament match, their teammates will be available to score in their stead.
  • If you are coaching a low-scoring team, play full-court press. Many players struggle to score under pressure. In a penalty shootout, all they have to do is kick the ball to the lower corner of the net. The goals are bigger than the kids for a reason.
  • Identify the opposition’s top goal-scoring threats and adjust the defense to counter. If they’re fast, stay off a few yards so you can see the through ball coming, match speed, and push the attack to the touch line. If they’re slow, put someone close enough to touch them, a half-step toward the goal line and a half-step toward the center of the field, to pressure the ball when it lands at their feet.
  • Either have the best penalty kick-takers on the field at the end of the match, or win decisively before then. 3/4 playing time applies, so budget accordingly.
  • Have a piece of paper with the order of who takes the kicks. You’ll give this paper to the kids, not to the referee.

If a tournament match ends in a tie, the outcome is decided by a penalty shootout. The team should have practiced taking penalty kicks.

  • Only players on the field at the end of time (or the end of overtime) may take part in the shootout. It helps for the coaches to walk onto the field after the whistle blows to corral the players. Remember to bring the list with you. Some kids will want to go sit with a parent. To keep them on the pitch, draw them into a huddle, and then start drifting toward the center circle.
  • Don’t talk to the referees. They are also full of adrenaline.
  • Assign a goalkeeper to start with. Anybody on the field can be the goalkeeper, and the goalkeeper can change anytime.
  • Everyone will be asking “who goes first?” If you tell them, they’ll ask, “I forgot, what order am I?” Hand them the paper. They’ll have to stop jumping up and down to read it.
  • The first 5 all get a kick, and then it’s one-by-one after that.
  • There are many strategies for how to sequence the kickers. Don’t overthink it. Just start with 5 who can get the ball across the line.
  • Everyone takes a kick before anyone takes a second kick. The order can change the second time around.
  • Suggest they sit in order, lest they forget.

The coaches leave the field and watch nervously from the sidelines.

  • Keep them in the center circle, because if you wander off when it’s your turn, it counts as a miss.
  • Some referees will ask coaches to stay in the circle to herd the players. If you do this, sit behind the team and try not to say anything.
  • The only time a substitution is allowed is if a goalkeeper is injured, a replacement goalkeeper may come off the bench.
  • If one team is down a player, the other team chooses a player to come off to equalize numbers.

How to practice taking penalty kicks?

  • You get one penalty kick. That’s it. If you practice doing it over and over until you do a good one, then you’re practicing missing. 
  • “Everyone gets one penalty kick, and then take a water break. No do-overs.”
  • I live by a golf course. I see a lot of golfers. Never take a practice swing. Just walk up to the ball and hit it, or don’t hit it. “There is no try, only do or do not.”
  • Soccer players sometimes fold their bodies in half, fall backwards, or lean their heads forward. This is what you get from practicing kicking from a standing position, because the only way to compensate for the angular momentum of the leg swinging forward is to flail around with the rest of your body.
  • Instead, include the penalty kick in a larger motion. You can tell kids to lean forward until you’re blue in the face. Try placing another ball (or two, or three) near the goal. After taking the penalty kick, the kicker has to run forward and score with the other balls. After about 5 or 6 tries at this, they’ll remember the need to move forward after taking the kick, and their kicking leg will start to swing forward into a step, instead of spinning around and tripping them.
  • To make the ball go faster, start with a bigger backswing. Most kids will swing their legs at the natural pendulum frequency, rather than accelerate their foot downward. This is age-appropriate. 
  • Wait until you have adult-sized muscles before you try to overcome your body’s reflexive safety limits. The limits are there for a reason — to prevent hyperextension injuries. 
  • Say, “kick the ball faster” instead of “kick the ball harder”. There’s a difference.
  • The ball goes faster if you push off the ground with the toes of your anchor foot. This seems to force people to coordinate the timing of their knee and hip motions.
  • Push-passes are perfectly acceptable.
  • The foot is more likely to hit the ball if you learn to “watch your foot make contact with the ball.”

How to practice stopping penalty kicks?

  • Feet on the line.
  • It’s a psychological game! At the dedication of her statue at the Rose Bowl, Brandi Chastain said that the Chinese goalkeeper had thrown her off in a previous penalty shoot-out, by smiling and winking at her.

Tell me more about the psychological game

  • For the 1999 World Cup, the USWNT coaches, knowing that Chastain had failed in exactly this situation before, asked her to do it again.
  • Chastain walked up with her eyes closed, so she wouldn’t look at the goalkeeper. She only opened them to line up the target just before she kicked the ball with her left foot.

Related: Referee guidelines for penalty kicks