July 6, 2018

Practice makes perfect when it comes to penalties (and media interviews!)

Practice makes perfect when it comes to penalties (and media interviews!)

So, it seems football might be coming home? With only three games standing between England and the World Cup all eyes are on Gareth Southgate and his team in Russia.

It felt like the whole nation collectively held their breath when one by one, Kane, Rashford, Henderson,Trippier and Dier stepped up to take their penalties against Colombia and, after 28 years of losing high-pressure shootouts, they did it! A stroke of luck? A lottery? A fluke?  It seems not… their success was very much planned – they’d been practising!

Penalty expert Ben Lyttleton wrote in the Guardian:

Gareth Southgate is…the only one to accept that the penalty shootout is not a lottery; that taking penalties is about performing a skill under pressure; and that penalties can be trained

Of course this doesn’t just apply to taking penalties – there are definitely parallels to be made between England’s preparations for a penalty shootout and preparing for a media interview (bear with me!)

  1. Set the scene

The England team recreated the scenario of a penalty shootout at the end of long practice sessions – tired legs, screaming fans and all! They did this many, many times.

The same can be done for a media interview (and if you attend one of our media training courses you will be put through your paces in the same way).  Going through the motions of an interview is invaluable – it enables you to see how you will react in the situation so you can properly prepare. Everyone responds differently but practice, practice and more practice works for everybody!

  1. Own the process

Pickford handed the ball to each England player on his way to the spot. This is owning the process, and ensured that David Ospina would not disrupt any players’ penalty routine by making them walk to get the ball

Some journalists might use tactics to try and disrupt an interview and take the interviewee off topic! Or they might be doing seven things at once and distract you unintentionally. Either way being able to recognise when this is happening and, more importantly, being able to steer the interviewer back on to the topic YOU want to talk about is an important skill. Using something we call ‘control phrases’ will stop you getting flustered – they are vital if you are to maintain control in an interview!

  1. Know your role

Once extra time was over, it was clear that everyone knew their roles. When Southgate addressed the players in a huddle, he was not asking for volunteers

There wasn’t a last minute scramble to find five people to step up and kick the ball toward the goal; they all knew what they had to do.

It’s no different when dealing with the media. Knowing why you’re doing a media interview in the first place is the first step to it being successful. Knowing who else is on your team and what questions they will answer is a big help too. Being really clear on what your objective is and what you’re trying to communicate through your key messages is vital!

  1. Take your time

It was noticeable that England players waited at least one extra second, and in some cases more than that, before taking their penalties

Composure and a deep breath to help focus the mind made a big difference for the team.

We give the same advice to clients during a media interview. Take deep breaths, make slow, considered responses, don’t feel like you need to answer straight away and use the silence. All these tools will help you to be calm, credible, clear and concise!

  1. Do it again, but better

Gareth Southgate famously missed a penalty at Euro 96. He hasn’t let it get the better of him. In fact he has used it to improve. He analysed and identified all the things he (and England) did wrong, and has corrected them. This is essential: dispassionately reviewing your performance to put right things you did wrong (and recognise the things you did right), means you’ll be better next time.

Because, whether it’s media interviews or a penalty shootout in a major tournament, there will always be a next time…

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