Are penalties a matter of luck?

So England beat the disgraceful Colombians on penalties.

(I’m sorry, they were. Had they played us at football, they probably would have won.)

And with column inches to fill, we heard a lot about the psychology of penalty taking…particularly as the national team has lost the last seven shoot-outs, I believe.

Gareth Southgate, the England manager – who himself once missed a crucial penalty for England – even spoke admiringly of his players ‘owning the process’… which I last heard at a psychotherapy conference.

Things are changing in the England camp.

And my friend – not a football follower, but aware that it’s a bit hard to avoid at present – listens to all this and is wondering: ‘Is the psychology of penalty taking really a thing, Simon? I mean, isn’t it all just a matter of luck?’

And I say, well, it is a thing to the extent that players, amid extraordinary pressure, can be helped to stay in the moment.

And they can be helped to breathe deeply and trust their preparation; helped to stay with their normal routine and (amid the absurd delaying antics of opponents) to avoid distraction and focus on their task.

All of life is luck, of course. We have no power over where we are born – in what country, in what century, to which parents, and to what financial and emotional resources – all of which make an incalculable difference to our lives.

We are surfers, dealing with what comes, riding both the waves of luck and ill-luck…waves that do not obviously care and are not obviously just, though they sometimes lift us high.

Life is luck.

But we can help luck along, we can attract luck even, by ‘owning the process’ – living it presently, with awareness, with hope and without fear…whether we’re wondering about our job or our marriage…teaching a difficult class…handling the world’s most stupid boss…

…or walking up to take the penalty.

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