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Illustrations by Mr Angelo Trofa

We asked Dr Ken Bray, a senior visiting fellow in the Faculty of Engineering and Design at the University of Bath in the UK, for some tips on taking the perfect football penalty. As a renowned sports scientist and theoretical physicist, Dr Bray has plenty of expertise in this area, and is author of the book How to Score: Science and the Beautiful Game published by Granta.

So: you've just been awarded a penalty kick and you're going to take it. Or your team has fought its way through to a shoot-out and your name's on the list of penalty takers. Anxious? You should be. You're about face one of the most testing physical and psychological encounters in sport. And no matter whether you play for your pub team or the national side, there are bound to be nerves. But as someone once said, it's not a question of having butterflies in the stomach but getting them all flying in formation.

What are the four key steps for success? Let's talk first about the shoot-out, which is generally more stressful than a normal penalty. Click through the slides above, where we begin in the centre circle: your turn has come, and you set off towards the goal.

Failing to prepare

It's many years since an England coach argued that practising penalties was unnecessary. Hone your technique by taking spot kicks after hard training sessions. Don't shoot at an empty net. It's important to have a goalie in place to achieve maximum realism.

Take a proper run-up

Don't take a single step back and imagine that you'll beat a wily goalkeeper by a nonchalant swing of your boot at the ball. Control of direction and pace of shot are vital and it's much easier to achieve the ideal combination from a short, purposeful run-up.

Never change your mind

Deliver the shot you've practised, the one you should be "imaging" before the ref blows his whistle for the kick. Why gamble with an unrehearsed shot? Worst of all is a decision to change tactics during the run-up itself: easily the most common cause of missed penalties in the coaching manual.

Spot-on style