I was reading an article on a philosophy blog about Albert Camus and his time as a goalkeeper.
“There is something appropriate about a philosopher like Camus stationing himself between the sticks. It is a lonely calling, an individual isolated within a team ethic, one who plays to different constraints. If his team scores, the keeper knows it is nothing to do with him. If the opposition score, however, it is all his fault.
Standing sentinel in goal, Camus had plenty of time to reflect on the absurdist nature of his position.”
I’d never thought of a goalkeeper like that, a man outside the team.
A man who can lose the game all on his own, and the pressure of knowing that.
It led me to think of Wim Wender’s film The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty.
It’s about a goalkeeper who has committed a murder and wonders where to hide.
“The goalkeeper attends a football match and witnesses a penalty kick.
The goalkeeper describes what it is like to face a penalty: should he dive to one side, and if he does will the kicker aim for the other?
It is a psychological confrontation in which each tries to outfox the other.
In parallel with this, the goalkeeper, rather than go on the run, returns to his hometown and lives in plain sight. He doesn’t know if the police are looking for him in particular, but the police are not necessarily looking for someone who isn’t trying to hide.”
Which again made me think how lonely it is to be a goalkeeper, especially the pressure when facing penalties.
I recently read some statistics about 965 penalties taken across 10 seasons.
One hundred and sixty-eight had been saved, that’s 17.4%, by goalkeepers who had dived to the left or to the right.
But the most surprising statistic showed that if they hadn’t dived, simply stayed in the middle of the goal, they would have saved 33% of the penalties.
So the question is, why didn’t they just stand still and double the number of saves?
This is what Daniel Kahneman calls “norm theory” – he describes it as “broken emotions”.
And it’s dictated by what the crowd wants to see.
Basically, if we perform to the expected norm, and it works, we get greater appreciation.
If we go against the norm, and it fails, we get greater disappointment.
So the safest route is to perform as the crowd expects: if we succeed it’s great, and even if we fail it’s not too bad.
The norm for a goalkeeper would be making spectacular dives, not standing still.
Crowds don’t do statistics, they’d rather see a goalkeeper diving across the goal than just standing still.
I once asked a professional goalkeeper what he thought of West Ham’s goalie.
He said he didn’t think he was very good.
I said how can you say that, he’s made some spectacular saves?
The professional said, that’s how you know he’s not very good, you only make spectacular saves when you’re out of position.
If you’ve got good positional sense, you are where the ball is going to come.
It doesn’t look so impressive to the crowd, but you let in less goals and win more matches that way.
And that always seemed a good parallel for what we do.
We play to the crowd by doing work just to impress our peers, or win awards.
We’re not interested in statistics of what works, just how we look to the crowd.
Do we get the best write-ups in the trade press, are we fashionable?
We may not get the best results, but we make some spectacular moves and look impressive.
Because we’re out of position and playing to the crowd.
Dave Trott is the author of The Power of Ignorance, Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three