Maths and the World Cup: Improving England’s chances of success

By Morwenna Evans Tuesday, June 17, 2014

New research reveals that mathematical ability is key on the football pitch. So if England’s chances of beating Uruguay are to be improved, the players best develop a solid understanding of maths!

Maths and football

Dr Ken Barry, a sports scientist at the University of Bath has analysed reels of footage that illustrate his premise of mathematics and science sitting at the heart of successful football.

Dr Barry has suggested that names such as Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney owe some of their football prowess to an intuitive understanding of geometry.

According to Barry, football bridges the space between science and art: ‘Football is an art but it’s also a science and every footballer uses geometry, aerodynamics and probability to perform at their peak’.

‘An understanding of scientific and mathematical principles could be worth its weight in gold if you want a career in football.’

Free kicks, goalkeeping techniques and penalties were at the core of Dr Bray’s research, as the scientist commented: 'We know the striker's success rate is 80 per cent from penalties in normal play, which drops to 75 per cent for shootouts,'.

'However, even the best keepers cannot cover every inch of the goal and 28 per cent of the net is actually beyond the goalkeeper's diving reach. Anything hit into that area is unsaveable.

'Statistics show that if the ball is hit within the keeper's reach the chances of scoring are only 50-50. Good penalty kickers understand these odds and play the percentages.'

On free kicks and aerodynamics, Dr Bray said: 'It takes extraordinary skill to beat a defensive wall with a swerving kick. The striker must ensure the ball passes through very narrow limits as it crosses the defensive wall to hit the target.

'For a 25-yard free kick the ball needs to be struck with an elevation of 16 degrees and for right-footed players, hit slightly to the right so the swerve will bring it back on target as the ball speeds towards the net.

'The initial ball speed should be 60-70 mph and it must be spun at about 600 revolutions per minute if the ball is to move in flight.'

Burnley defender Clark Carlisle has been praised for his mathematical ability having appeared on Countdown and Question Time.

He was in agreement with Dr Bray regarding the prominence of mathematical understanding in player’s success. He commented:

'From the forward to the keeper, we rely on scientific and mathematical principles to improve our performance, whether it's a case of striking the ball cleanly, working out the angle of a slide rule pass or positioning the wall to defend a free kick.'

So, if you struggle to see the relevance of maths for future success, here is yet another reason to get to grips with this key subject.

Categories: Maths-Careers