Open Access

Optimal Mixed Strategy Play: Professionals Can, Students Cannot, But What About the in Between Case?


Using penalty kicks in collegiate soccer matches, we test whether kickers choose where to place shots, and whether goalies choose where to dive in a way that is consistent with optimal mixed strategy play. The previous literature, studying professional soccer players, provides evidence of mixed strategy play in penalty kick scenarios. These results contrast with the evidence obtained in a lab, studying subjects who only play a game a few times and have insignificant monetary payoffs. These lab results find no evidence of mixed strategy play. The contrast between the results obtained from these very different environments makes it unclear which result generalizes to other settings. By studying college athletes, we analyze the middle ground, which is where most strategic decisions will be made. We find that college players employ optimal strategic play in some respects, but not in other respects.