What Goalies Get Wrong About Penalty Shots

They suffer from the 'gambler's fallacy'
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 3, 2014 10:46 AM CDT
What Goalies Get Wrong About Penalty Shots
Netherlands goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen reacts after being scored on by Argentina's Maxi Rodriguez during a penalty shootout during a World Cup semifinal.   (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)

Goalkeepers, it seems, fall victim to a classic problem faced by gamblers—and during a penalty shootout, it could cost them the match. The "gambler's fallacy" is the mistaken idea that, given a pair of outcomes, a string of one means the other is "due" to occur. For instance, as Discover notes, if you have a series of coin flips that land on heads, you might think a tails has got to be coming soon. Goalies appear to think that way when it comes to penalty kicks, Science reports.

When a player takes a penalty shot, a goalie essentially has to guess where the ball is going to go with little information. To fend off opponents, goalies should ideally choose randomly, thus preventing the other team from figuring out a pattern. But when researchers reviewed major international games from 1976 to 2012, they found that goalies tended to go in the direction opposite where the ball was last kicked. Knowing that could help kickers score more goals, Science notes. (As for gamblers, it may help to be aware of the fallacy—which helps fuel apparent losing streaks, this study suggests.)

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