In the post-match interview after England’s historic penalty shootout victory against Columbia in the World Cup, Gareth Southgate and Jordan Pickford both spoke about “owning the process ”. But what exactly does this mean? And why was it the key to England’s success?

Beating the odds

Statistically speaking, a goalkeeper is not expected to save a penalty kick. If you look at the science behind this, you can understand why.

The penalty spot is 12 yards from the goal line. The goal is eight yards wide and eight feet high, and typically a goalkeeper is just over six feet tall. When a kick is taken, the ball is likely to travel up to 80 miles an hour, and it will take approximately 500 milliseconds for the ball to travel from the penalty spot to the goal. The goalkeeper’s reaction time is approximately 600 milliseconds.

In that time, a goalkeeper needs to get set, he needs to decide which way he’s going (left or right, high or low) and he then needs to push and power on through in order to block the ball. The odds are stacked heavily against him, and the chances of a goalkeeper making a save are about 15% to 20%.

But if the England team was going to break the penalty shootout curse that has plagued them for so long, they were going to need to do everything in their power to improve their chances. Instead of praying to the football gods or working a bit of black magic, they did so by owning the process.

Owning the process

Owning the process means breaking down the components so that there is a game plan which everyone can visualise. That way, there are no surprises on the day.

(By the way, I feel I can speak with some authority on the subject, as my son is a goalkeeper at the Reading Academy and I have spent many hours on the side-lines and with the goalkeeping coaches!)

So, what are the sub-processes for a penalty kick?

  1. Preparation

It all starts with preparation.

The outfield players will practise their penalty kicks hundreds of times. Everything is rehearsed – from placing the ball, to the number of steps walked back, to the direction of the kick. In doing so, every stage of the process is familiar to them.

Equally the goalkeeper will practise saving penalties so that it speeds up his reaction time and becomes second nature, meaning he doesn’t need to think about when and how to dive.

The team will also study the opposition’s players, giving them an insight as to how each person takes a penalty kick. Some individuals tend to shoot high, low, down the centre, left or right. Knowing these trends before stepping up to the line is a huge advantage.

  1. Mindset

Mindset plays a huge part.

The players need to be conditioned for the pressure, not only from within the stadium but also from the fans back home whose hopes are resting on their shoulders.

The manager will draw up a list of the players selected to take a penalty and the order. This will depend on how good they are and whether they have the right mindset to handle the pressure.

  1. Executing the plan

Next comes match day, when the plan needs to be executed. Because of the preparation, everyone knows what is expected of them and when.

Firstly, the manager needs to ensure that the penalty takers are on the pitch when the extra-time whistle is blown, so must manage his substitutions carefully.

Then there’s the actual shootout. Decisions have to be made as to who goes first and which goal to use, after which the team gathers on the halfway line. There is a long walk for the penalty taker from the halfway line to the penalty spot, and all the while the tension is mounting.

Similarly, there is a long walk for the goalkeeper from the side of the goal to the centre of the goal. Both will be trying to psyche each other out, and one goalkeeper will be at the opposition end, so the fans will be trying to disrupt him. Again, it comes back to mindset.

The penalty taker will place the ball on the spot, take his set number of paces backwards and get himself ready to take the kick. Just like he practised. The goalkeeper will stand at the centre of the goal and will try to make himself as large as possible, often jumping up and down waving his arms.

The referee will check both players are ready and blow his whistle. Once the whistle is blown and the penalty taker starts his run up, the goalkeeper knows he’s only got a 15-20% success rate, but his prior planning and revision will guide him as to which way he will dive. The penalty taker will hit the ball, which will travel at 80 miles an hour towards the goal.

  1. Focus

There are five penalties before it goes into sudden death, so for the goalkeeper, this process must be repeated. That means staying focused and sticking to the plan.

And then there’s luck. But as they say, you make your own luck.

Own your business process

So, there was a lot more to that penalty shootout than meets the eye.

Statistically, Jordan Pickford had little chance of saving that penalty. But he did, because he (like the rest of the England team) prepared, withstood the pressure, and executed his game plan. In other words, he owned the process.

This tactic isn’t just reserved for our football heroes. It can also be applied to businesses. If you own a business, ask yourself – do you own the process? Does everybody within your team know what is expected? Do you have a game plan? Can everyone visualise the direction that your business is moving in to achieve your business goals?

If you need help with your game plan or need to visualise your business processes, then please contact us.


How the England Football Team ‘Owned the Process’
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