There are more people who have traveled to space than soccer players who have taken a penalty kick in a World Cup shootout, and there is nobody on this planet who has done more to understand the minds of those athletes than a psychologist named Geir Jordet.
Players who hurried through penalties missed more than players who took enough time to compose themselves, according to his research. His recommendation: Slow down. Taking deep breaths and trusting in routine is a good way to exert agency, which is important, since players who feel like they’re in control outperform those crippled by the unpredictability of chance.
But this kind of mental work must begin long before a World Cup, said Dr. Jordet, who suggests practicing every detail of the process down to placing the ball on the penalty mark. “You want to have an almost machine-like, robotic approach,” he said. The most counterintuitive of his findings may be that penalty shootouts reward teamwork.