Thursday, 24 April 2008

Paying the penalty

I've long had a suspicion that we might see a Barcelona-Chelsea Champions League final - which should be good news to Manchester United and Liverpool fans, given my established predictive shortcomings. United now have to stop Barca scoring at Old Trafford and get something themselves. However, they have not been helped by Cristiano Ronaldo showboating at the penalty spot yesterday. Trying to side foot into the top right-hand corner is the sort of thing you do on the training ground, not in a vital match like this. Confidence can segue into arrogance when young players' minds are turned by inflated acclamations of their own brilliance, it seems.

The perils of the spot-kick are also highlighted in a new report that appears this week, implausibly enough, in the academic journal Scientific American Mind. English footballers missing penalties and women doing badly at maths could all be down to historical stereotyping rather than innate inability, according to researchers.

A new report by psychologists at Universities of St Andrews and Exeter (I first noticed this one in the local paper) argues that success or failure at work, school or in sport is not always down to lack of ability or incompetence. Instead, they suggest that the power of stereotypes can cause poor performance when a person believes they should do badly.

Professor Alex Haslam of the University of Exeter explained, "The power of stereotypes should not be underestimated. What we think about ourselves - and also, what we believe others think about us - determines both how we perform and what we are able to become."

The report, published on 22 April 2008, argues that the roots of poor performance lie partly in the preconceptions of how well a certain group (usually relating to gender or nationality / ethnicity) should perform certain tasks. For example, one reason why the England football team performs badly in penalty shoot-outs (winning only 1 out of 7 in major tournaments) is that performance is impeded by a history of failure.

We think it, therefore it happens - a psychological mindset takes over which overcomes those given the responsibility of discharging the fans' dreams.

This won't be news to Sven Goran Eriksson. When he was interviewed some months ago by Gabby Logan on the BBC's Inside Sport, he said that the one thing he would have done differently during his tenure as England national manager would have been to employ a professional psychologist to assist with preparation for penalty shoot-outs.

No comments: