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The science behind the ideal punishment

The science behind the ideal punishment

Penalties are one of the most nerve-wracking moments in football. Whether it’s a decisive penalty kick in the last minute of a match or a nerve-racking penalty shootout, the pressure on a player’s shoulders is enormous. But what makes a penalty kick perfect? Let’s explore the science behind the ideal punishment.

Date of punishment

The penalty kick was invented in England on February 14, 1891. During the FA Cup quarter-final match between Notts County and Stoke City, a County defender blocked a shot with his hand on the goal line. Stoke were awarded a free kick, but the goalkeeper was directly in front of the ball, leaving the Stoke player no choice but to shoot directly at the goalkeeper. This led to the penalty kick rule being introduced by the International Football Association Board in June 1891.


The chance of scoring a penalty kick is about 70 percent. During the 2022 World Cup, 22 penalty kicks were scored out of 29 awarded, equivalent to 76 percent. In the history of the Euro, 88 penalty kicks have been awarded, of which 62 (70 percent) have been scored. Penalty shootouts have a similar conversion rate, at 69 percent in the World Cup and 77 percent in the Euros.

Ideal distance

Why are penalty kicks taken from 12 yards (about 11 metres)? This is simply what the FA decided in 1891. This distance provides a good balance between risk and reward. Research suggests that a perfectly aimed penalty kick at 80 mph (about 129 km/h) into the top corner of the goal can theoretically beat a goalkeeper from 35 yards (about 32 meters) away. As we get closer to the goal, the chance of scoring increases significantly, and at 3 yards it is almost 100 percent.

Speed ​​and direction

For a striker, scoring the perfect penalty kick depends on two things: speed and direction. At 80 mph, a goalie has about a third of a second to react. This means that the goalkeeper’s only chance to stop the ball is to correctly guess where the ball is going. Research conducted by the University of Bath in 2012 showed that goalkeepers have a “diving range” that covers 70 percent of the goal area. Within this range the chance of scoring is 50 percent, while outside this range the chance of scoring is 80 percent.

Mental aspects

In addition to the physical aspects, the player’s mental state also plays a crucial role. Research conducted by the University of Exeter in 2009 showed that players under pressure are more likely to look at the goalkeeper and therefore shoot into the middle more, increasing the chance of a save. Less anxious players who can ignore the goalkeeper have a 20 percent lower chance of a save.


The perfect penalty kick is a combination of speed, direction and mental preparation. By hitting the ball hard and high, and remaining calm under pressure, players can greatly increase their chances of scoring. As Harry Kane, one of the best penalty takers, says: “I try to practice in all kinds of different situations and make sure I’m ready for whatever comes.” So, next time you see a penalty kick, remember that there’s actually a whole science behind it. Who knows, you might even see the perfect punishment in action.