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The German penalty theory

At most football clubs, a small collection of individuals shoulder a huge burden of poor results. This makes decision-making all the more difficult, but a tale about German penalty takers can perhaps teach us something about handling responsibility.

There is a (possibly apocryphal) story that explains why Germany have won so many penalty shootouts over the years. It goes that in the days leading up to a knockout match, each player practices his own combination of three possible kicks; for example one kick bottom-left, one top-left and one top-right. The player labels the kicks choice A, choice B and choice C.

When the game reaches a shootout – a time when many coaches and players freeze – the coach tells each of his five penalty takers which penalty they will be kicking: choice A, B or C.

In that moment, the kicker is released of one of his biggest responsibilities and stresses: choosing which direction to shoot. If the keeper guesses correctly and saves, it’s the coach’s fault: “he told me to go that way”. All the kicker needs to focus on is making a clean contact and hitting the right area in the goal.

We can take that analogy and apply it to the boardroom-manager/head coach relationship. With the average tenure of this position well below 18 months in Europe’s biggest leagues, it’s clear that they bear most of the burden for poor results. This is because they often take responsibility for many key decisions across the club, much in the same way non-German penalty takers must make a host of important choices before their final kick.

But what if head coaches could be afforded some clarity of thought? Are there other people within the club who can take ownership of transfers, player management and succession planning? Fostering a sense of collective responsibility can relieve pressure and allow people to focus on their jobs.

Of course nothing is ever as straightforward as taking a penalty, but the principles of this German tale apply: sharing the burden can often bring out the best results.

About Omar Chaudhuri

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