Goalkeepers facing the prospect of a penalty shootout may have just received a boost from an unusual source–amateur gamblers. Well, sort of–a group of psychologists studying tape from World Cups and European Championships between 1976 and 2012 have concluded that even the best professional keepers often fall prey to the Gambler’s Fallacy in shootout situations. The famous gambler’s fallacy rests on the premise that after flipping five heads in a row, say, most people assume that the next flip will be tails. In fact, there’s a fifty-fifty chance it’s heads again, just like every other flip. But the researchers found that keepers tend to ignore this fact, and choose which way they will dive to accordingly.
So while the kickers’ placement of the ball was random, the keepers’ dives were not. That gives kickers the advantage. So what’s a poor keeper to do? “The best point for the keeper is to become more random,” says study co-author Erman Misirlisoy. So picking a set series of dives and sticking to that plan no matter what would give keepers a better chance of success than paying attention to what opposing kickers do. It’s an uncomfortable position for anyone–to trust chaos over their own instincts–but in this case one that just might lead to one more save, one more game, one more chance for glory.