Goalkeeper’s position influences kick direction during penalties

If the goalkeeper is clearly standing on one side of the goals (imagine 3 metres off centre) obviously the player taking the penalty will kick to the open side and score a goal. Of course, this exaggerated example never happens. But what if the goalkeeper was standing marginally off centre?

Rich Masters, John van der Kamp and Rob Jackson investigated this scenario. They were particularly interested in understanding the kick direction when the kicker was not consciously aware of the goalkeeper’s off-centre position.

Firstly, the authors observed penalty kicks in professional soccer matches to establish whether an effect was present. Secondly, the authors ran multiple experiments to understand the effect.

1. Observation of penalty kicks during soccer matches

200 penalty kicks from professional matches were assessed via video replay. The authors concluded that kick direction was influenced by goalkeeper position, with 59% of kicks being directed to the larger side.

2. Experimental manipulations

Across 3 experiments, the authors showed that:

a) In a computer task, participants could detect the larger open side better than chance when the goalkeeper was standing off-centre by 0.5% of the total width. Participants could do this despite having little confidence in their judgements.

b) In a real-world task, participants were instructed to kick to the larger side. Indeed, participants did so, even when they were not confident which side was larger.

c) In a real-world task, participants were instructed to NOT take the kick when the goalkeeper was standing in the middle. As expected, participants kicked the ball when the goalkeeper was standing > 3% off-centre – a distance that the participants could consciously detect. However, when the goalkeeper stood < 3% off-centre, participants often did not take the kick. This highlights that when the goalkeeper stands marginally off-centre, the kicker is not consciously aware of the position.

Concluding message

Goalkeepers can influence the kick direction by standing marginally off-centre. This can therefore help the goalkeeper anticipate the direction of the kick. Importantly, by only standing 0.5 to 3% off centre, the goalkeeper will not be providing too much of an open space to kick to.


Masters, R. S., van der Kamp, J., & Jackson, R. C. (2007). Imperceptibly off-center goalkeepers influence penalty-kick direction in soccer. Psychological Science, 18(3), 222-223.


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