• Johnathan Wright

The Water Bottle Has the Answers

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

With the MLS playoffs here, many teams practice their penalty kick strategies to determine who their best spot kickers are and study the opponent team's PK habits.

A penalty shootout is not a toss-up. The only luck in a penalty kick shootout happens before the kicks begin in the coin toss. On average, the team that shoots first has a 60% chance of winning.

PKs are studied and analyzed, and teams evaluate them for hours. It is a classic example of Bayes' Theorem. The goalkeeper and the shot taker analyze the probabilities in their heads, trying to determine the likelihood of success based on previous results. For a penalty kick taker to have the most success, they need to have a completely random shot pattern to the left, right, or center.

In last night's game, you saw a great example of the planning that now goes into a PK shootout. In the picture above, you can see a water bottle in the Portland Timbers coach's hand. On the water bottle, you can see markings and writing taped onto the side. What is written on the bottle are the opponent's team PK shooters' tendencies so that the goalie will know which way to dive. If on the bottle it is recorded that an opponent player typically shoots a PK to the right, then the goalkeeper will dive to his left. The goalkeeper will take this water bottle down to his goal with him, and after every kick, when he looks to be taking a drink of his water, he is looking at the tendency of the next spot shooter he will be up against.

Soccer is constantly becoming more analytical, and this is the latest example shown on live television last night.

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