The goalkeeper's dilemma

The goalkeeper’s dilemma

The goalkeeper’s position in football can be a lonely one, and they’re under intense scrutiny during penalties. But how does the way they react to that pressure reveal something about our everyday experiences?

The way that goalkeepers tend to deal with penalties is to dive for the right or the left, based on guesswork, intuition, or another arcane method of prediction.  But there’s a very basic psychological drive behind this.

Experiments and research have shown that goalkeepers are actually happier to dive too soon and to miss, than they are to wait and see the ball get past them.  This is because they feel that by having made a decision they have  done their job, when waiting could look like them doing nothing.

However sometimes doing nothing, and waiting, can be the right decision.  It isn’t just goalkeepers that find themselves compelled to show that they’re doing something when waiting would be more beneficial – it’s something that affects most of us too.

Think of the pressure that politicians are under to react to events, and the cries in the media that “something must be done”.  What politicians can be prone to is being seen to do something, even when waiting for more information or evidence would be more sensible.  This is because they want to be seen as decisive, in the same way goalkeepers want to be seen to be doing their jobs.

And even if we’re not goalkeepers or government ministers we can still be caught by the same pressure to “do something”.  What people forget is that watchful waiting (as opposed to procrastination) is a positive decision to “do something” – in this case to avoid a premature decision, or one based on intuition or misleading impressions.

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