Putting spin on a soccer ball so that it curves into the top corner of the net is an impressive sight. The effectiveness of a curling kick, however, goes beyond scoring goals. A perfectly curved, lofted ball can lead to an important chance or get a defender out of a dangerous situation. Learning how to curve a soccer ball – whether passing or shooting – is one of the game’s most important skills. It’s one that every field player should learn, and each one should have the ability to complete a pass to another player with curve on the ball.
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Curl the Ball Like Beckham
David Beckham was the footballer that we usually thought of when talking about curving or “bending” a pass. They even made a movie about it, Bend it Like Beckham, in which the final conquest turns on a swirling free kick. He made a name for himself at perennial English league leaders Manchester United in the 1990s.
Beckham isn’t the only footballer known for being able to make the ball fly in all directions. Brazilian left back Roberto Carlos became famous for his free kick skills. Some say he delivered the best ever free kick in a 1997 tournament against France.
Perhaps not a coincidence, both men were teammates later in Beckham’s career at Real Madrid.
When to Curve a Soccer Ball and Why
We may not all be able to hit a “worldie” like Carlos’ kick, as part of his “secret” is that he was extremely powerful. However, we can learn from both Beckham and Carlos, their situational use of curving a soccer ball and their technique.
Beckham was an attacking midfielder, playing on the right. As such, his manager Sir Alex Ferguson asked him to send quality balls into the box for the strikers. He also became a free kick specialist, having scored dozens for club and country.
So then, Beckham would bend a soccer ball as an offensive weapon to either put his teammates in a position to score, or score himself from the run of play or a set-piece. When making an assist, he would curve the ball to take defenders out of the game. An example of this is his assist to the Brazilian Ronaldo at Real Madrid. Ronaldo has defenders on both sides of him. Beckham curves a ball in so that Ronaldo is the only person who can get a foot on it and he scores.
As a right back, Carlos is sometimes brought into the offense. When he played, fullbacks were not as big a part of the offensive plans as they are today. Though Carlos could deliver a long-ball to find a forward with the best of defenders, he often used his ball curling skill to stop an offensive attack. He could quickly get control of the ball on the line and curl it back in to a Madrid teammate.
Both Carlos and Beckham were considered among the best free kick takers when they played. Their kicks would either set up teammates to score with an indirect free kick or score directly. They would also take shots on goal using the curve of the ball to befuddle the goalkeeper.
The change of direction, the curve of the ball, is what makes the technique effective. When shooting, the keeper sees it going one way and then finds it going in a different direction. In making a cross (passing the ball from out wide to the middle of the pitch), the curve takes the ball away from defenders and towards an offensive player.
The Technique of Curving a Soccer Ball
Each player will put their own spin on technique when curving a soccer ball. However, the basics are relatively similar. And as with other soccer techniques like shooting, you can strike the ball with different parts of the foot for differing effects.
Curving the ball with the Inside of the Foot
The most often used strike to bend a soccer ball is to hit it the ball with the inside of the foot. Where you hit it and with how much force will depend on what you are trying to do with the ball. But the most important thing for putting spin on the ball so that it changes direction in flight is making certain that the foot that strikes the ball curves around the ball. Beckham describes it as wrapping his foot around the ball. It may sound awkward but that is what happens in a way.
Let’s take an indirect free kick. A foul has been given and your side cannot score directly. You need to make a good pass to a teammate. You are on the right side of the pitch. You want the ball to turn away from you, towards your left, in midair.
- Place the ball down. For a reference point, place the ball with the air hole facing you.
- Pick a spot in your mind to strike the ball. Call it the strike point. You want the ball to go into the box so someone can get a head on it. In many situations the strike point will be near the lower half going towards the side of the ball, but it will depend on the situation.
- You should visualize where the ball will go, don’t look in that direction while you are in the act of kicking.
- Approach the ball at an angle, from 50 degrees up. Open your body on approach.
- You want your plant foot to be behind the ball so that you can get it high enough. The plant foot points where you want the ball to go, but slightly away from that direction. Lean back slightly as you strike.
- Lock ankles as with most all kicking techniques in the game. For curves and bends, you may point your toes up slightly if you want some air underneath, but not if you want a lower ball, like a low curling cross into the box.
- Keep your eyes focused on the strike point.
- Hit the strike point with the inside of the foot closer to the ball of the foot, not back towards the heel as you might with a pass. That bone at the ball joint will also provide power to your shot (you’re hitting a hard surface).
- Hit the ball with the inside of your foot, turn your hips slightly as you strike. The misconception for many young players is that the approach angle gives the ball spin and power, when it is actually the legs, hips and strike point. The muscles work together. The leg and strike point create the spin on the ball through the direction of the swing and the contact at the strike point, along with the slight directional change with the foot. The hip helps with those movements, but also provides the necessary power.
- With proper form, the striking leg/foot will fly in front of the plant leg on follow through.
Take a look at this video for a demonstration of this technique:
Bending the Ball with the Outside of the Foot
Using the outside of the foot is more difficult, but the principal is the same. You use your legs and hips to put spin on the ball. As the inside of the foot strike is more comfortable and sure for most people, one generally uses that method. However, there could be a situation where it is beneficial to use the outside of the foot.
- If you are attacking the goal from the left side of the pitch, but are under pressure from the defense, you may want to make a cross to the box. With no time to switch feet and set yourself up with a touch, you want to hit it with your right foot.
- You will prepare to strike on the run. You will bring your foot across your body in front of you, hitting the ball at the lower middle with the plant foot behind the ball, but pointed slightly towards where you want the ball to go. The spin should take the ball to your right. With proper form, your striking foot will end up across your body.
- As usual, keep your eyes on the spot where you will strike, not where you want the ball to go.
In this clip you’ll see Ashley Sanchez of the Washington Spirit score a cheeky goal using the outside of her foot to curl the ball around the goalie while positioned at a seemingly impossible angle!
The Science of Bending
There is a science behind the forces that make the ball curve in the air. It’s called the Magnus effect. Knowing how it works may open up more possibilities for you as a soccer player who wants to make the ball bend.
Learning to Curve a Soccer Ball
Curving a soccer ball is a specific skill. You get better by practicing that specific skill. You can develop your own specialties or try to become as skillful as the best free kick takers and ball-benders in the game. Of course, you can practice taking free kicks. However, you can improve your abilities and accuracy by trying to hit targets on the pitch.
Set up a net, ball basket or garbage can at the top of the penalty box. Stand on the left or right side of the pitch and try to curve balls into that basket. You may not hit a ball into the can, but you can get close.
You can always work with your teammates, hitting what will eventually be pinpoint passes as you try to become the next person to bend it like Beckham used to.