Last week I wrote about the importance of preparation and confidence in coaching. Then the Women’s World Cup offered up another example. Coach Hope Powell was quoted on her disappointment when her England went out on a penalty kick shootout:
She told The Guardian: “Three times I had to ask before anyone
stepped forward. ‘Where are you?’ I was thinking, and then a young kid (Rafferty) is the first to put her hand up.
“And Kelly Smith was dying on her feet but she stepped up and took one. You’ve got to want to take a penalty, but other players should have come forward and they didn’t. That’s weak, it’s cowardice.”
Here”s a different perspective: she failed to prepare her team to win. For one thing England has had a phobia about penalty kick shootouts from decades. There’s even been a book or two written on the topic in England. And websites like this that proclaim, “England are crap at penalties.”
As coach of the national team, Powell knew the history. She had to have known her women were subject to the same mindset and cultural legacy that the men lived under. For her to not have prepared her team for a penalty shootout was an oversight of the highest order. And they paid the price. Expecting five players to go out alone and take a PK without having trained for the moment was foolish and irresponsible.
The USA women also went out on PK s in the final. When Japan tied the match 2-2, the stage was set. There was one thing separating the teams at that point: the US had gone through a tiebreaker against Brazil and won it. And Japan watched the tapes. Should Pia Sundhage have changed the sequence of shooters or named different players? Shannon Boxx had her first shot saved against Brazil, only to be given a reprieve when the ref determined the Brazilian keeper had moved too soon. She shot to the same spot, to her right about 4 yards high, and scored. Against Japan she once again shot first and once again went to the same spot. Only this time Japan’s keeper got there legally and stuffed it.
Carli Lloyd was having an off-day. She had done nothing with the five or six chances she’d had during the match, not even getting a single effort on frame. Her PK skied over the crosssbar. Tobin Heath was a new choice as Rapinoe had been subbed off after starting the match, and she pulled wide. Afterwards on the US Soccer site, Pia didn’t seem to second-guess it:
“You saw the penalties, and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. I think when you look back at everything we’ve gone through with the penalty kicks we had against Brazil we had a good feeling. Then again it just proves what little difference there is between a good penalty kick and a not-so-good one.”
I think I’ll always be a worrier when it comes to stuff like this. Call me cassette if you will but I’d rather be prepared than not. I think it comes from all the years under the crossbar; a goalkeeper is continually looking, adjusting, anticipating. Ninety-eight percent of goalkeeping happens before the shot leaves the opponent’s foot or head. Fans may think goalkeeping starts when the shot is taken but that is very incorrect. Here’s a story about how it should go, a young actresses is dealing with jitters when she meets a legend of Broadway:
It was opening night of the great musical, “Annie Get Your Gun,”‘ and the ingenue was standing in the wings as the overture played. She was a few moments from making her Broadway debut, and panic was rising in her. The star of the show, the great Ethel Merman walked up and stood along side her. The young actress turned to Merman and said, “Miss Merman, a-a-are you n-n-nervous?” Merman barely glanced back at the girl as she replied, “why should I be nervous, honey. I know my lines.”
Ethel in her heyday: You’ve got nothing to do but relax — if you’ve prepared.