The Amazing Science of Soccer!

Two weeks ago, Cody Outdoor Classroom hosted our final school group for the spring.  The spring season has been amazing. We visited classrooms as far away as Bristol, CT, and West Haven, VT, and as close as our hometown of Dover, NH.  Up at our residential site in Freedom, NH, we hosted a number of different schools from places as far away as Nantucket, MA, and from as close as Sacopee, ME. It has been an enriching spring season, and we can’t wait to greet students again next fall when the school year ramps back up.

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As we spring into summer, there is a rather large soccer tournament happening in Russia: The Men’s Soccer World Cup!  Though the United States Team did not qualify, the competition has been electric. Stars from around the world have shown off their talent and teamwork.  The other night, a star player from Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo, scored an incredible goal, kicking the ball so that it appeared to “bend” around a human-wall and into the upper corner of the goal (see video here).  As amazing as the goal was, it got us thinking: how does a soccer ball curve? Though it appeared to defy physics, it had an explanation based in physical science.

The explanation is due to the “Magnus Effect.”  When a ball is struck and flies through the air with a high enough velocity, it causes turbulence in the air moving past it.  When the ball is spinning, different amounts of pressure or force are created on either side of the ball. When unbalanced forces are acting on an object, the object will move in the direction of greater force.  The ball in the picture below is moving to the left. It is spinning in clockwise motion. There is more air pressure on the lower part of ball, therefore, the ball will begin to curve, or “bend”, up.

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In the video above, when Ronaldo strikes the ball, he imparts a left and downward spin on it. As the ball flies through the air, it curves to the left and slightly down, bending around wall of soccer players.

So, the next time you are playing soccer, do your best to “bend it like Ronaldo” and amaze the other players on your team!


For more information, visit these sources:

Science non Fiction: https://sciencenonfiction.org/2014/07/17/bend-it-like-magnus/

NASA: https://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/k-12/airplane/straj.html