Sport science and chances – what would you do if you knew the chances to win?

When you think about chances it is easy to think about gambling. But also in science chances are important. Scientists use statistics to discover which theories are more likely then others. But the notion of chance always remains relatively abstract. What is a chance? And more important; what would you do if you knew the chance? Sport scientist Gert-Jan Pepping studied how you might be able to increase the chances that a team wins in a soccer penalty shootout.

An old video now, with subtitles!

Enjoy and don’t forget to click on the cc-button to turn on the subtitles (English or Dutch) or read the transcript below.

What should you do if you knew the chance to win?

[Gert-Jan] If you knew the chance to win? Then you should cheer! And you should cheer in a way that is clearly visible.

You can influence chances. Sport and movement scientist Gert-Jan Pepping studied how players take penalties in association football and which factors influence which team wins the penalty shootout. His research will change the way in which penalties are taken forever.

[Gert-Jan] We have particularly looked at: how many of the players that show a particular type of celebrating end up in the winning team. Of those players that don’t show any emotion when they have scored, 50% ends up in the winning team and 50% ends up losing. Of those people that show a bit more when they have scored, about 60% ends up in the winning team and about 40% loses. And of those players that dare to show a lot of celebrating – and by the way, not many players dare to do this, of those players about 80% ends up winning and only 20% lost the shootout as a team.

[Gert-Jan] But of course you can also miss your penalty. Not every penalty is scored.What our research shows is that also in those situations it really helps when you visibly show that you are extremely disappointed that you have missed your penalty. Football players that are visibly ashamed of their miss have a bigger chance to win the shootout compared to those that don’t show any emotions.

[Gert-Jan] Look, this is what it is about [points at computer monitor] van Nistelrooi scores a very important goal, and he visibly shows that he is very happy with it, he celebrates, and shares it, right after the score with his goalkeeper [vd Sar]. And this is an important moment [points at computer monitor], when he shares his emotions of happiness and pride with his teammates. He infects them with positive emotions. The moment they see him cheer, yeah, then they can’t help but feel those same emotions. They all share the same goal of winning the shootout so they will catch the same emotions, and when it is their turn to take the next penalty then it will be beneficial if they experience positive emotions. The associated chemicals that are released in your brain and bloodstream will help you when you have to make important decisions. And, also important, the opponents … of course they are really annoyed, and that causes different chemicals to be released in their brains and bodies. This will narrow their attention, their bodies and muscles will tighten up and the chances that they will miss their penalty will increase.

Pepping’s research is not only important for athletes and in sports. We can also use this knowledge in daily life.

[Gert-Jan] This is true for all decisions that require a broad attention. Whether it’s a fireman that has to safe peoples lives or an anaesthesiologist in an operating theatre. In those circumstances that people want or need to be creative, it is useful that chemicals run through your body and brain that are associated with positive emotions. And the reverse is true too. When you are anxious or frightened and experiencing negative emotions then that will cause your attention to narrow and that will have a negative effect on your ability to make creative decisions.

G.J.Pepping – Center for Human Movement Sciences – University of Groningen

Gert-Jan Pepping is an Associate Professor in Human Movement at the School of Behavioural and Health Sciences of AUstralian Catholic University, Brisbane, Australia.

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Posted in Football, My own research, Science General, Sport Science

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