Cerebral Shangrila

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Game theory, Soccer and Penalty Kicks

The authors of the immensly popular book - Freakonomics, write a very interesting blog. Steven Levitt (One of the authors of the book) explains why very few players hit the ball in the middle, although the theoritical probability of scoring a goal is high if hit in the middle of the goalpost.

Levitt says, " In my paper with Tim Groseclose and Pierre-Andre Chiappori, we test the predictions of game theory using penalty kicks in soccer. We find that the players’ actions conform very closely to the theoretical ideal.

There is one big deviation that we see between what players actually do and what the theory predicts: kickers kick the ball right down the middle much less than they should. Or put another way, in practice, kicking it down the middle scores at a higher rate than kicking it either to the left or right (at least in our data set).

Why? If you kick it right down the middle and you don’t score, it is damn embarrassing. So even though the middle is a great play statistically, kickers don’t choose it very often. There are some things that are even more important than winning, like not looking like a fool."

Economics can never explain irrational things. Isn't not looking like a fool one such ?

P.S : Interested in the Application of Game theory for penalty kicks in Soccer? Here is Levitt's paper on it with two more authors.


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