The Kick of a Lifetime

      Comments Off on The Kick of a Lifetime

It’s the biggest moment of your life.

It’s just you and the goalkeeper, who is standing 12 yards away.

The soccer goal he or she is guarding is 24 feet across and 8 feet high. Will you hit the penalty shot that will win the World Cup for your country – eternally ensuring your place in the hearts of your fellow citizens – or will you be the goat who will live out the rest of your days in abject humiliation?

As Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner point out in their book Think Like a Freak, it really comes down to where you decide to kick the ball.

Conventional wisdom says you can aim for the left corner or aim for the right corner.  As soon as you approach the ball, the goalie will have to commit – hurling his or her body, hands outstretched, in one direction or the other.

At the elite level of soccer competition, about 75% of penalty kicks are successful.  If the goalie guesses wrong, the odds go up to 90%.  But a kick into the corner is not a gimme.  Even an All-Star player can deliver the ball wide of the mark.  And if you do, you and your family might want to consider witness protection.  Soccer fans are nothing if not insanely committed to the success of their team.

If you’re right-footed (and most soccer players are), then the left corner of the net is your “strong side” and is definitely your best bet.  Goalkeepers of course know this, too.  They fling themselves toward the kicker’s left corner about 57% of the time, and to the right only 41%.

The whole world is watching.  Your future is at stake.  What should you do?

Levitt and Dubner propose a third option.  A middle way.  Literally.

Why not kick the ball straight ahead?  After all, the goalie will almost certainly not be there when the ball arrives.  Statistics show that keepers “stay at home” only 2% of the time – which means the odds of  scoring a goal go way up.  And it’s infinitely easier to hit a dead center shot than to angle the ball into the corner.

That seems to make good sense.  Interestingly, however, only 17% of penalty kicks in international competition go toward the center. Why?

Dubner and Leavitt have a theory.  It’s fear.  Fear of shame.  Fear of failure.  Fear of appearing to avoid the harder kick, and then looking really stupid when the goalie stands his ground and easily deflects your shot.

The clash of motivations here is huge.  You want your country to win, right?  So go with the higher odds and aim for the center.  

But you don’t want to look personally stupid, either. This is the primal fear that prompts most people to protect their own reputations instead of doing what it takes to bless the wider community.

So what can we do?  We can bet our lives on these words from the apostle Paul: “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of [the fullness of God’s life].  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13- 14)

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Forget the past.  Set your mind fully on the work that God has given you to do, however humble, knowing that it’s underneath the umbrella of God’s ultimate goal of healing this broken world.

Then kick away.