Saturday, January 8, 2011

Evidence of professional soccer player chokes

In soccer, one of the methods of determining the winning team if a match is drawn but a winner is needed is by the two teams taking kicks from the penalty mark. ... From the time it was first introduced in 1970 and until 2003, the basic procedure established that both teams alternately take five penalty kicks each, and that the order of the kicks be decided by a referee who tosses a coin and the team whose captain wins the toss takes the first kick. ...

Using data on 1,343 penalty kicks from 129 penalty shoot-outs [in international and national club competitions] over the period 1976-2003, we find that teams that take the first kick in the sequence win the penalty shoot-out 60.5 percent of the time. Given the characteristics of the setting we can attribute this difference in performance to psychological effects resulting from the consequences of the kicking order. ...

[I]n July 2003 FIFA introduced a slight change in the procedure used to determine the kicking order. Rather than requiring that the winner of the coin toss must take first kick, it required that he chooses whether to take the first kick or the second kick. ...

[W]e conducted a survey of more than 240 players and coaches in the professional and amateur leagues in Spain, who were asked the following question: "Assume you are playing a penalty shoot-out. You win the coin toss and have to choose whether to kick first or second. What would you choose: first; second; either one, I am indifferent; or, it depends?" ...

We found that just about 100% of the subjects answered that they would prefer to go first. More importantly, when asked to explain their decision, they systematically argued that their choice was motivated by the desire to put pressure on the kicker of the opposing team. ... [W]e find that in 96% of the cases they explicitly mention that they intend to put pressure on the kicker of the second-kicking team, and that in no case they refer to the possibility of enhancing the performance of their own goalkeeper. ...

[F]or a subset of all the penalty shoot-outs in the sample we have detailed information on whether the no-goals are due to "saves" by the goalkeeper or "misses" by the kicker. ... [L]agging in the score predicts more misses by the kicker but predicts no more saves by the goalkeeper. Hence, these results are also consistent with the idea that the psychological effects may operate mainly through the kicker.
--Jose Apesteguia and Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, "Psychological Pressure in Competitive Environments: Evidence from a Randomized Natural Experiment," on how even the best can choke under pressure

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