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Updated: July 2, 2010 13:33 IST

The physics of bending it like Beckham

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A new study on the science of soccer explains how the world’s greatest players like David Beckham are able to do miraculous things with the ball at their feet. File photo
AP
A new study on the science of soccer explains how the world’s greatest players like David Beckham are able to do miraculous things with the ball at their feet. File photo

How does one make a football do things that seem to defy the forces of nature or, as immortalised in the popular movie, Bend it like (David) Beckham?

A new study on the science of soccer explains how the world’s greatest players are able to do miraculous things with the ball at their feet.

With football fans glued to the ongoing FIFA World Cup in South Africa, John Eric Goff, physics professor at Lynchburg College in Virginia has made the aerodynamics (studying the motion of air when it interacts with a moving object) of the soccer ball a focus of his research.

Mr. Goff looks at the ball’s changing design, its surface roughness and how asymmetric air forces contribute to its path once it leaves a player’s foot.

His analysis leads to an understanding of how reduced air density in games played at higher altitudes — like those in South Africa — can contribute to some of the jaw-dropping ball movements already seen in this World Cup.

“The ball is moving a little faster than what some of the players are used to,” says Goff, who is an expert in sports science.

For Mr. Goff, soccer is a sport that offers more than non-stop action — it is a living lab where physics equations are continuously expressed.

“On the field, the balls manoeuvre according to complicated formulae but these can be explained in terms that the average viewer can easily understand,” he says.

The outcomes of jaw-dropping soccer plays can be explained simply in terms of physics, said a release of the American Institute of Physics.

Mr. Goff is also the author of the book, “Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports,” which uncovers the mechanisms behind some of the greatest moments in sports history.

These findings appeared in Physics Today.

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