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How Tim Howard prepares for penalty shots

We talked to Chris Sharpe, Colorado Rapids’ Goalkeeper Coach, about how Tim Howard gets ready for PKs (just in case).

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

The penalty shot. Some people love ‘em, some people hate ‘em. And it’s always been a point of contention—when William McCrum introduced the idea in 1890, he was ridiculed. McCrum continued to push the idea, and after quite a bit of debate, the penalty kick was added to the rulebook in 1891.

It’s no secret that at just 12 yards out, the spot favors the shooter. The average professional soccer player can boot a PK at about 70 mph, meaning that the goalkeeper has less than half a second to react. Which leads me to the question—how do you prepare for something like that?

“We don’t spend a whole session training PKs,” says Chris Sharpe, the Colorado Rapids’ Goalkeeper Coach. “I use a lot of video. I’ll look back at a team’s last dozen PKs from two years or so and look for telltale signs. Then I give the guys 4-5 pages of notes and they’ll study it for the week.”

So in the Real Salt Lake game that Tim Howard came up with a big save, he may have studied Javier Morales in his notes for the week, which gave him a bit more of a chance than simply guessing.

In case you somehow missed it, here’s a refresher:

Even though they study up on the most likely candidates to take the PKs from each team, goalkeepers are taught from a young age to look for telltale signs of where the shooter is going to kick the ball based on their run up, their dominant foot, their hips, and where they are looking.

To be able to put together the information from Sharpe’s notes, the body language from the shooter, and then be able to not only pick the correct side, but actually get to the ball—all in less than half a second? It’s a feat of athleticism. “I think it comes with experience,” Sharpe says. “It’s also about preparing your goalkeeper as a coach.”

According to Sharpe, “there’s never any pressure on the goalkeeper. You just hope they compose themselves, gather themselves, look at the approach, and know what to do.”