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May 17, 2010


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"Takers send the ball down the middle about 33% of the time, and left or right about 15% each."

Where does the ball get sent the other 37% of the time?

Ian Leslie

I think that should, strictly speaking, read "bottom left or bottom right"...with the rest going top right or top left.


Some comments. I realize that my comments may be resolved or answered by the research paper, but it is behind a pay wall.

First, staying in place is only sensible for keepers GIVEN that keepers know the frequency distribution of directions of balls sent by takers (proportions sent left, right, and down the middle). The researchers now know this frequency distribution, because they have done a study to estimate it, but that does not mean keepers knew it, or even that they know it now.

Second, even if keepers knew the overall frequency distribution of ball directions by takers, particular takers may have particular biases or habits or tells. A sensible keeper will surely react to what he knows and sees about the particular taker he faces, not to some generic (statistical model of a) taker. Have the researchers allowed for this?

Third, takers may be doing the same as keepers - choosing directions to send the ball based on particular habits or tells of the specific keeper they face, not in response to some generic (model of a) keeper.

Fourth, takers may be sending the ball down the middle because they know from experience that keepers are likely to dive away from the middle. If keepers change their behavior as per the researchers' guidelines, this may induce a change a taker behavior also. Thus, such a change by keepers is not necessarily optimal or even sensible, despite being recommended by cognitive scientists.

In conclusion: food for thought, but certainly not yet the definitive answer as to why keepers do what they do, nor definitive advice as to what keepers should do.


Re penalties

Reminded of your discussion about Steve Davis keeping his head still. In this case, if a player has sound technique - honed by years of practice - they can focus on this. When you practice a penalty, you're encouraged to choose a spot and keep hitting that spot. This spot is rarely the middle of the net - there's a cliche that the top corner is the hardest place to save (but it's also the hardest place to hit consistently). So there's a running logic that if the penalty is taken as its taker intends, it won't be down the middle.

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