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Free Kick Mechanics
David Beckham

My son is very passionate about soccer (football to you non-Americans). In an effort to help him realize his potential, I have started to study how the best soccer players in the world actually kick the ball. What's interesting is that, just as in baseball hitting, I have found that what many people teach, and what the best players actually do, are often two different things.

Free Kick Mechanics: What People Teach

One of my son's main jobs, and skills, is taking free kicks and corner kicks. As a result, I have spent a considerable amount of time on the web looking for videos that will help him maximize his power and his ability to make the ball move (aka "bend").

One video that I was referred to, and that was referenced, by a number of knowledgeable people was a piece entitled How to Shoot a Soccer Ball with Power.[1] This piece teaches some things that I have head of, like planting the foot next to the ball, as well as things that I haven't heard of like keeping the knee over the ball and keeping the weight moving forward and over the ball through the point of contact.[2]

Free Kick Mechanics: What David Beckham Actually Does

I initially accepted what I was told in the video that I link to above and in videos like it. However, I started to question what that video teaches based on a clip that I found that shows David Beckham demonstrating his free kick technique.

David Beckham's Free Kick Mechanics

David Beckham's Free Kick Mechanics
Slow Motion

What I see in the clips above and below is a standard double pendulum system where the first pendulum is the upper leg and the second pendulum is the lower leg.[3]

David Beckham's Free Kick Mechanics

David Beckham's Free Kick Mechanics
Stop Frame

There are a number of things that David Beckham does to maximize the efficiency of his kick.


It's hard to judge the exact length of David Beckham's last step, but I think it's safe to say that it's close to his height. By jumping into his last step, David Beckham increases his the kinetic energy that he can transfer into the ball.

Cocking the Kicking Leg

When his plant foot lands in Frame 111, David Beckham has his kicking leg cocked back almost to his kicking leg side butt cheek. This maximizes the potential energy by increasing the distance over which his leg will travel before contacting the ball.

However, this critical aspect of the free kick is completely ignored in the instructional video that I reference above.

I have found that, when trying to increase my own power, I have the best results — and am able to tap into a source of pretty much effortless power — when I focus on cocking my kicking leg back instead of trying to muscle up on the ball. Similarly, when I look at the kicking motions of kids who aren't able to kick the ball very hard or far, in most cases I will find that they don't cock their kicking legs back very much if at all.

Firm Plant Side Knee

Notice how, in Frame 125, David Beckham's plant side knee firms up and stops moving forward.[4] It's not a coincidence that, at the same time, his kicking side foot whips around and through the ball.

What is happening is that all of the energy that is created by the jump step has to go somewhere, and in this case it is funneled into his kicking side leg and foot.

Staying Behind the Ball

Rather than getting on top of the ball at the Point Of Contact, David Beckham stays behind the ball. That ensures that he stops his momentum. That, in turn, increases the force of his leg whip. It also helps him get the ball up into the air.


[1] I do think that this video shows how to hit a hard, low shot (aka a worm burner). However, I don't think it is applicable to a free kick or corner kick where you want to get the ball up into the air and over (and often around) the defense.

[2] In the clip below, does David Beckham keep his knee over the ball? I would say that he doesn't. Instead, his knee is at least a foot behind the ball.

David Beckham's Free Kick Mechanics

David Beckham's Free Kick Mechanics
Slow Motion

[3] The baseball swing is often modeled as a double pendulum, with the first pendulum being the arms and the second pendulum being the bat. While you could argue that the baseball swing is better modeled as a triple pendulum, that's a fairly nit-picky distinction.

[4] In the instructional video I reference above, the instructor makes it clear that it's critical to keep moving forward through the ball through the Point Of Contact because that is where one's power comes through. However, if you look at the video clip of David Beckham, you can see that he doesn't keep moving forward through the ball. Instead, his body stops its forward movement just before the Point Of Contact.

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