Women's World Cup: Is there a science to the perfect penalty?

Penalties: only hearing the word can send a shiver down your spine.

Throughout the Women’s World Cup, England and Scotland’s players will be talking team tactics and game strategy every step of the way. Spot-kicks from 12 yards will be high on the list of things to practise.

So can science help? How much of scoring a penalty involves brains, and how much is down to brawn? When it comes to a game-changing shoot-out, calculation is key. We spoke to Sport and Exercise Biomechanics expert Dr Tim Bennett about his formula to taking the perfect penalty, and asked FC United of Manchester Women’s Team to put Dr Tim's theory to the test.

According to Dr Tim, there are five key steps to the perfect penalty:

  1. The angle: players should approach the ball at a 45 degrees
  2. The backswing phase: the kicking leg and the opposite arm pull back to release energy to swing forward
  3. The leg-cocking phase: the heel of the kicking foot is drawn as close to the buttock as possible to help stretch and store energy in the quadriceps
  4. The leg acceleration phase: upon impact the leg is almost fully extended with the kicking foot reaching peak speed
  5. Impact: for optimal shot speed, the kicking foot should hit the ball with the laces of the boot as close to the centre as possible.

What about in practice?

FC United of Manchester Women’s Team put Dr Tim’s formula to the test and agreed: “If it comes to penalty shoot-outs and we know exactly how to take it, I think more people would want to step up to the plate and want to take one.”

I'd never scored a penalty, but now I have!” said one player, who certainly proved that the theory has some ground (or should that be pitch?).

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