Like Xavi, Senior men’s soccer player John Bayron Sosa is known more for setting up goals than for scoring them. But when it comes to a pressure-filled penalty kick (PK), it’s Sosa who steps up.
Here’s Sosa’s strategy for a perfect kick:
Penalty kicks are big-time pressure for both the player taking the shot and the opposing goalkeeper, but most of that pressure is on the potential goal scorer.
“Most of the time when your coach gives you the permission to shoot the PK it’s because they trust you,” Sosa said. “They expect you to score the PKs.”
Since a goal is scored from a direct penalty kick 75-85 percent of the time, those expectations are not unreasonable. They account for the pressure of the situation being placed heavily on the offensive player. Therefore, maintaining your cool is paramount.
“The most important thing is to basically stay calm,” Sosa said.
Statistics from 286 penalty kicks at the highest level of the game show goalkeepers dive to their left or right 94 percent of the time as opposed to staying stationary in the center of the goal. Typically they simply pick a side and dive in that direction just before the ball is struck, hoping to guess the proper direction of the shot in order to stop it.
Sosa is well aware of this and has a method for countering it.
“Before I take the shot I look at the keeper,” he said. “Other players like to just pick one side, keep their head down and just strike it. Sometimes I don’t think that works as well because you just strike the ball high or the keeper guesses the side.”
He learned this the hard way.
“I missed one PK a long time ago doing that,” Sosa said. “I just picked one side, shot it to that side and the keeper went to the same side. I keep my head up to make sure I know where the keeper is. I’d rather look at the keeper and wait for them to make the first move. He makes the first move; I’ll go to the opposite side.”
Square up, follow through
Most people can kick a soccer ball; that part is simple. However, it requires technique and practice to be able to place a ball accurately with power. Squaring your body toward the desired target is necessary.
“I like to point my right foot basically towards the goal,” Sosa said.
“Then I take a couple of steps, look at the keeper, then strike it.”
Although the legs and feet seem to do most of the work, keeping your upper body properly aligned is just as important.
“Keep your shoulders square,” Sosa said. “Keep them down so you don’t put the ball in the air.”
Once you approach the ball, plant your non-kicking foot just behind and to the side, pointed at the target. Be certain to keep your body aligned with the knee on your kicking leg and your head positioned directly over the ball while performing the kick.
Follow through with the motion, kicking through the ball and not just at it. This ensures that you have used the necessary technique in order to power the ball past a diving keeper.
“You keep your head over the ball,” Sosa said. “You shoot and the body follows.”
We’re Not Done
If a penalty kick happens to rebound off the goal or a keeper’s save, the ball is in play and can still be put into the back of the net.
“You never know if you’re gonna hit the post or if the keepers going to stop it,” Sosa said. “You gotta make sure you follow the shot. That way you can get the rebound.”
With all that technique and years of preparation in place, Sosa prefers to keep it simple.
“I would rather not think,” Sosa said. “One. Two. Look at the keeper, strike.”
He just reduced an 800-word story to seven.