Bend It Like Beckham

Why Exactly Does a Football Swerve Around So Much?

UPDATED (see end of post)


(graphic: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT)

Do you know the difference between the “Jabulani” and the “Brazuca?”

Those are the names, respectively, of the footballs used in the 2010 South Africa World Cup, and this year’s tournament in Brazil. (yes, the people who inhabit the world of football are so crazy, they even name their balls…)

That’s not the only difference: They’re also constructed differently.

According to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that makes ALL the difference in the world in how the balls fly when they’re bending around a wall or whizzing past the fingertips of a diving goalie’s outstretched hands.

“The details of the flow of air around the ball are complicated, and in particular they depend on how rough the ball is,” says John Bush, a professor of applied mathematics at MIT and the author of a recently published article about the aerodynamics of soccer balls. “If the ball is perfectly smooth, it bends the wrong way.”

Read more about the physics of football flight here.


The U.S. space agency NASA is also making its contribution to the science of football air flow and aerodynamics, seeking to understand why footballs fly the way they do.

Check it out in this video, courtesy of NASA:

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