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In search of the perfect free-kick

Leading UK sports engineers, an innovative British technology company, and specialist kicking coach Bartek Sylwestrzak have worked in partnership to look in 3D detail at one of the most sought after football techniques.

Globally, only a handful of players can consistently apply topspin to a ball allowing a player to hit it up and over a defensive wall while dipping under the cross bar with power. These include the Brazilians Juninho Pernabucano and Marcos Assuncao.

A most recent high-profile example came from Italy’s Andrea Pirlo (pictured) and his goal against Croatia in the 2012 UEFA European Championships; Pirlo went on to be instrumental in the defeat of England.

After years of studying these kicks, Bartek Sylwestrzak, a Loughborough University Sport and Exercise Sciences graduate, is now coaching this technique to a number of professional players.

Midlands-based Charnwood Dynamics worked in partnership with Loughborough University to use its new outdoor 3D motion analysis system, Codasport, to look for the first time into the movement of the lower body and in particular the foot during a number of strikes from players trained by Bartek.

This was made possible with government funding (Research Council), designed to enable companies to engage with British universities, in this case Loughborough’s Sports Technology Research Group.

Sensors reveal the secret to the optimum free-kick

The Group has a global reputation for working with sports brands including Adidas, with a long history of carrying out research to support the development of footballs used in major international tournaments including the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

A cluster of strategically-placed sensors, capable of withstanding kicks traveling at over 100 kilometres an hour, instantly relays invaluable objective data in high resolution detail in a pitch environment.

Previously, this data could only be captured in laboratory tests. The new system is portable, quick to set up and can operate in bright light such as sunlight or floodlighting.

Ashley Gray, Loughborough’s sports technology expert seconded to work with Charnwood Dynamics said: “For the first time ever, it has been possible to look at this forward spin technique on the pitch in minute detail, allowing us to focus in on key elements to really get inside what is happening with this most potent of free kicks.”

The method developed and results from the collaboration could help coaches and players refine such techniques to become more successful and consistent in the future. 

Loughborough’s research team and Charnwood Dynamics have just returned from the Wimbledon qualifiers where they have been measuring spinal motion during the service action.

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