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Engineers Discover Secrets of Soccer Free Kicks
Posted Mon May 20, 2002 @01:39PM
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Application Three collaborating groups of researchers have used wind tunnel testing, computational fluid dynamics (CFD), and other computer simulation techniques to unravel some of the underlying mysteries behind "bending" a soccer ball during kicking, which will be a feature of the upcoming Soccer World Cup in Japan and Korea this year. This technically very difficult "art" of scoring goals from the dead ball "free kick" situation has been perfected by such world class soccer players as Brazil's Roberto Carlos, Germany's Michael Ballack, and England's David Beckham. Inspired to uncover the science behind the "free kick" and the soccer ball's dynamic flight, engineers from the University of Sheffield's Sports Engineering Research Group, Yamagata University's Sports Science Laboratory, and Fluent Benelux have carried out a fundamental scientific and engineering analysis of this exciting part of the "beautiful game."

Sports Engineering is a new discipline that applies standard engineering principles and techniques to the research, design and development of external devices used by athletes and sports people to enhance their performance.


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"We believe that our research into the underlying physics of soccer balls is crucial to helping us explain more about soccer free kicks than ever before," said Dr. Matt Carré from the University of Sheffield Sports Engineering Research Group. He went on, "a combination of wind tunnel experiments, high-speed video camera analysis, trajectory simulations and computer modelling techniques like Computational Fluid Dynamics is a very potent way of explaining what is happening. We think that the work we are doing is giving us a deeper understanding of what makes for ideal soccer ball designs especially the ones that lead to more exciting free kicks. Indeed, we believe that our fundamental approach to the engineering aspects of soccer will lead to insights that can be applied to the training field and in improving the techniques of young soccer players."

Dr. Keith Hanna, Marketing Communications Director at Fluent, echoed these sentiments and commented that, "during every Soccer World Cup, talk inevitably touches on the fabulous free kicks that fool both defenders and goalkeepers alike, because of the way that a soccer ball bends during its flight. In the 1.0 to 1.5 seconds it takes for a soccer free kick to happen, it is clear that a soccer ball experiences some very complex physics. The simulation work we have done with Sheffield and Yamagata Universities has been absolutely fundamental and I believe that it will lead to a range of further studies. It still amazes me that elite soccer players like Beckham and Carlos do what they do in a free kick instantaneously and under immense pressure in critical games. Their brains must be computing some very detailed trajectory calculations in a few seconds purely from instinct and practice. Our computers take a few hours to do the same thing and although we can now better explain the science of what they do, it is still magical to watch!"

flow pathlines
FLUENT CFD simulation showing wake flow pathlines of a non-spinning soccer ball, air speed of 12 m/s ( 27 mph) Larger Image

Official Soccer World Cup Website

4th International "Engineering in Sport" Conference Website

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Related Links
  • 4th International "Engineering in Sport" Conference Website
  • Fluent
  • Larger Image
  • Official Soccer World Cup Website
  • University of Sheffield's Sports Engineering Research Group
  • Yamagata University's Sports Science Laboratory
  • More on Application
  • Also by nwyman
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