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World Cup fans can de-stress with Calm's new penalty shoot-out meditations

World Cup fans can de-stress with Calm's new penalty shoot-out meditations

Nervous Football Fans

World Cup fans who can’t bear to watch their team take part in the agony of a penalty shoot-out can now turn to the Calm app for a guided meditation tailor-made for their predicament.


“The most anxious part of any World Cup – perhaps of any sport – is the penalty shoot-out,” says Michael Acton Smith, co-founder of Calm. “This is when we hide our eyes and watch through our fingers.”

The torment, what’s more, is greater for some World Cup fans than others – and greatest of all for fans of England. Even after England's dramatic shoot-out victory over Colombia this week, England still has the joint worst World Cup shoot-out record of any country, and the worst of any team left in this year's tournament.  

"The penalty shoot-out is a moment of agony or ecstasy, heartbreak or triumph", says Alex Tew, Calm’s co-founder and, like Acton Smith, an England fan.

“After 90 minutes of normal time and 30 more of extra-time, the fate of your beloved team – and, it can seem, the hopes of your entire country – have come down to this, the final showdown; in the end perhaps to a single kick of the ball.”

As we sit frozen in front of our TVs, our heart-rate spikes and our stomach is in knots.


So in this nerve-racking situation, how can we soften our anxiety? 

Tamara Levitt, Calm’s Head of Mindfulness, answers this question as the author and narrator of the first meditation ever devised for helping football fans cope with the torment of a penalty shoot-out.

The answer that she provides in her meditation boils down to doing two things:

  1. Focusing on breathing deeply to pull us into present moment awareness  
  2. When anchored in presence, we avoid future-based thoughts and the anxiety they create and are able to live in the moment.

Calm’s new meditation also draws on the wisdom of no less a spiritual master than Arsene Wenger, the great Arsenal manager for so many years.

Wenger oversaw more than a dozen penalty shoot-outs during his years managing Arsenal – and concluded that the “calmness” of a player was the key factor when deciding which players to take a penalty kick.  (This may be why the media are now calling Harry Kane, England's World Cup captain and penalties hero, "the King of Calm".)

Wenger has not hitherto been known as a meditation guru but he developed a keen interest in Zen Buddhism during his time living in Japan while managing a team there.

Calm’s new meditation shares his Zen-like advice that, “The only moment of possible happiness is the present.”

"It is in the present, this precise moment", Tamara explains, "that lies our best hope of finding peace:"

“In this instant, we are neither yet victorious nor vanquished. As of this moment, there is no goal, no win, no loss. There is only the here and now, and in the peace of a single breath, we’re able to remain open, curious, and excited.

“So during the stressful moments of the tournament, remember you have within you the ability to calm your anxiety. Focus on the breath, the very thing that connects to stillness.”  

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Calm is in fact offering its users a World Cup Series of three separate but linked meditations of different lengths – but all for fans facing the ordeal of a penalty shoot-out:  

  1. A short, three-minute breathing meditation – called a “Penalty Shoot-Out Breather” that fans can use during the anxious break between the end of extra-time and the start of the penalty shoot-out, that typically lasts around four minutes.
  2. A longer, 10-minute meditation that fans can use to calm their nerves during either most or all of the penalty shoot-out itself.
  3. A broader still meditation in the format of Calm’s normal “Daily Calm”, which focuses on the same theme but makes it relevant to other Calm users facing moments of acute anxiety. (only available in the app)

England’s record of three shoot-out losses out of four in past World Cups includes one, its first loss, in the 1990 semi-finals against Germany, the country with the best record, having never lost a shoot-out.  

Says Alex Tew: “So, we’re thinking of adding a special “gratitude meditation”, designed to help the fans of England and other countries give thanks that this World Cup will be the first in memory when Germany will not be able to beat them on penalties.” 

What About The Players? Don’t They Need A Meditation Too?

Calm’s new meditation is designed primarily for fans rather than players but the techniques that it suggests – focusing on breathing and living in the moment – are equally useful for the footballers actually having to take the penalties.

Compared to the fans, however, the players are lucky, argues Acton Smith. “They, at least, are masters of their fate.” The fans have no such luck. “All we fans can do is watch. And many of us can’t even bear to do that?

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