Aerodynamics 101

Zico, David Beckham and Andrea Pirlo; legends of the free kick game, all mastered the technique to repeatedly place the ball out of reach of the flailing goalkeeper to find the back of the net, scoring many important goals in the process.

 

However, in recent years, players, coaches and fans alike have voiced their concerns on the unpredictable flight of specific football models, with Pep Guardiola being the latest to criticise a specific football model claiming it ‘move[d] all over the place’ as well as saying that it is ‘unacceptable for high level competition’.

Everybody loves a great free kick, that heart pounding moment before the player strikes the ball. Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could ensure that footballs used at the highest level would fly consistently? Allowing a player to develop specific techniques in training that would be exactly repeatable on the global stage, increasing their goal scoring capabilities?

In order to improve the beautiful game of football, the Football Technology Innovation Department at FIFA is currently conducting a ground-breaking study, the first of its kind, with leading Computational Fluid Dynamics specialists FluiDyna. Experts in the industry who normally ply their trade in the automotive and renewable energy industry FluiDyna are now applying their extensive experience to the football world.

The methods selected for this study? Computational Fluid Dynamics and advanced trajectory modelling. Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) - the use of applied mathematics, physics and computational software to visualize how a gas or liquid flows around an object; and trajectory modelling, the use of mathematical modelling to predict the trajectory of an object based on specific input launch values and conditions. With these two methods, combined with experimental data, the Football Technology and Innovation Department intend to explore the possibility of predicting the aerodynamic behaviour of a football based on its geometry.

The first step is to find a suitable CFD method to achieve our goal, with multiple types of simulation software out there all with various strengths and weaknesses it is important that the results received from these simulations are both meaningful and representative of real life data. Whilst seeming simple this takes months with uncertainty analysis and iterative fine-tuning occurring continuously throughout the process. As well as this, multiple footballs of different design, panel shape and surface roughness have been scanned using the latest 3D scanning equipment to create a database that is representative of the elite footballs on the market. Once these steps have been finalised, huge amounts of data collection is needed followed by statistical analysis with the intention to identify trends that could explain the factors that impact the flight of a ball.

The end goal? To create a test, which would allow us to identify elite footballs with consistent aerodynamic behaviour that could be used at top level tournaments by the world’s best players. Here you can find more information on the FIFA Quality Programme for Footballs and a more in depth summary of our aerodynamics research.