Bend it like Bale…the science of football

by Wendy Sadler

You can almost taste the excitement here in Cardiff on the eve of the biggest event in Wales since, well, pretty much ever!

Image courtesy wikimedia commons

Image courtesy wikimedia commons

Probably the last thing on the players mind is swotting up on their physics skills – but maybe they shouldn’t rule it out. As key striker, Gareth Bale knows a lot more about physics than maybe even he realises.

Many footballers use a well-known physics phenomena called the Magnus effect to make their strikes just that little bit more sneaky.

When you kick a ball through the air it’s very hard to get it to travel without any spin. Most players know how to use this spin to get the ball to travel where it needs to go. If you kick a ball slightly off centre (let’s say to the right of centre) you will start a rotation or spin and that affects how much pressure (or push) the air around the ball is giving.


On one side the spin of the ball makes the pressure drop, so the air on the other side of the ball pushes more which makes the ball travel in an unexpected curved path, sometimes referred to as a ‘boomerang’ kick. David Beckham used to be famous for this kind of kick – hence the term ‘Bend it like Beckham’ but Bale is pretty hot at them too. Let’s see if he can bring out his inner physicist tonight for his place in the Welsh history books!

You can see an amazing video here demonstrating this magnus effect in a different way by dropping a basketball off a dam!

…and if you’d like to make your own little home-made demo to amaze people with the Magnus effect in action, I show you how below:


If you’d like to know more check out our ‘Science of Sport‘ shows for schools and festivals. Loads of audience interaction and physics hidden where you never thought you’d find it!

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