There is a secret to saving a penalty. Here it is | André Spicer

Left or right? In football, as in life, it’s so easy to jump the wrong way. And the reason is very simple

The referee blows his whistle, the penalty-taker begins to limber up, and fans tense up. The goalkeeper has a high-stakes decision to make. Where will he jump – to his right or left, or will he stay in the middle. No matter how experienced, the keeper is likely to make a common mistake: jumping into action when doing nothing would be a better idea.

An analysis of 286 penalty shootouts found most keepers prefer to leap left (49.3%) or right (44.4%) instead of staying put in the centre (6.3%). However, staying in the centre would have been a better idea. The study shows 39.2% of kicks head for the middle, 32.1% go to the left, 28.7% to the right. So why do keepers leap when it would be better to stay put? According to Michael Bar-Eli and colleagues, the answer is action bias. This is our tendency to take action even when doing nothing is better.

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