Cosmic Queries: The Physics of Soccer

Gary O'Reilly schools Chuck Nice on soccer, “the beautiful sport” in the Playing with Science Studio.

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About This Episode

This week, hosts Gary O’Reilly and Chuck Nice turn control of the show over to our fans for our first Cosmic Queries episode of Playing with Science. The subject: soccer, or football, as Gary, a former professional soccer player from England, calls it. Professor John Eric Goff is back to explain the physics inherent in “the beautiful game” in this off-season episode brought to you by our friends at TuneIn. First up, explore the physics of the free kick, using Roberto Carlos’ famous 1997 goal for Brazil against France. You’ll learn how to “bend it like Beckham”, and how speed, spin and even gravity impact the 60mph kick. Find out why right footed David Beckham’s kicks are more like curveballs, while left-footed Roberto Carlos’ are more like screwballs. Investigate the impact of the Magnus Effect and Newton’s Third Law on the flight of the ball. Professor Goff breaks down the physics of a power kick by greats like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Renaldo, whose powerful leg muscles release 10hp in 1/10 of a second, accelerating the ball with 30-50gs of force. Dissect the aerodynamics of goalkeeper Pat Jennings’ 1967 “goal to goal” goal, including launch angle, force, backspin for lift, and more. You’ll hear why it’s so hard to defend against the bicycle kick, made famous by Pelé and perhaps perfected in the form of the “Chilena” by Hugo Sanchez. You’ll also discover how changes in ball construction for World Cup soccer balls from 2002’s 32-panel ball to 2014’s 6-panel ball have impacted play, from the interplay of seams and panels, to the addition of texture to ball surfaces to address the “drag crisis.” Gary spills the secrets of how clubs leverage true “home field” advantage by changing grass length, the moisture of their fields, and even the availability of bathroom facilities for visiting teams. Finally, you’ll hear about the worst places to play soccer, the impact of altitude and weather on performance, and the expectations for the sweltering 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

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In This Episode

  • Host

    Gary O'Reilly

    Gary O'Reilly
    Sports Analyst, Broadcaster, Professional Soccer Player
  • Host

    Chuck Nice

    Chuck Nice
    Comedian
  • Guest

    John Eric Goff

    John Eric Goff
    Physicist & Author of “Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports”

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Episode Topics

  • Great episode! Roberto Carlo’s impossible free kick is really impressive, I recommend searching for another increadible goal by Roberto Carlos when he was playing for Real Madrid. It’s an impossible curved ball from almost the corner post. And regarding the Bolivian national team, there isn’t enought altitude home field advantage that makes up for a really bad team.

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