Tim Harford writes:
The very existence of the coin toss [in sports] is an admission of defeat – that there is something irreducibly unbalanced about these games, some advantage that cannot be divided but can only be surrendered to the gods of chance. [...]

Economics has a natural answer: against the indivisible advantage of winning the toss, trade something that can be more finely divided.
He discusses this with reference to cricket, American football and chess; I am more interested in penalty shootouts in association football. How cool would it be if the winner of the coin toss could trade the advantage of going first for the right to take the kicks from a closer distance - say, eleven instead of twelve yards?

That is assuming, like eveybody does, that going first in a penalty shootout is an advantage. The rationale behind that is pretty straightforward: 1. Unless you're wearing the three lions on your shirt*, you are more likely to convert a penalty than not; 2. Being 0-1, 1-2 and so forth down puts extra psychological pressure on the team that goes second. And penalty shoot-outs are mainly about psychological pressure. But how much of an advantage is going first actually? As I don't feel like crunching the numbers on that one myself, I'll write to The Knowledge about it. Should they respond, you, my sagacious readers, will be the first to learn.

*Back then, I kept hearing that song on the radio and kept wondering: "What bloody green lights on the shirt?" I was educated by an Englishwoman with an interest in football that it's actually "three lions on the shirt". But she couldn't tell me either what "jools rimej" in the line "jools rimej still gleaming" was. Turns out this refers to the Coupe Jules Rimet, the original world cup trophy (won by England in 1966), named after a Frenchman, for Chrissakes!


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