Bending It Like Beckham: How to Visually Fool the Goalkeeper

Joost C. Dessing, Cathy M. Craig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)


Background: As bending free-kicks becomes the norm in modern day soccer, implications for goalkeepers have largely been ignored. Although it has been reported that poor sensitivity to visual acceleration makes it harder for expert goalkeepers to perceptually judge where the curved free-kicks will cross the goal line, it is unknown how this affects the goalkeeper's actual movements.Methodology/Principal Findings: Here, an in-depth analysis of goalkeepers' hand movements in immersive, interactive virtual reality shows that they do not fully account for spin-induced lateral ball acceleration. Hand movements were found to be biased in the direction of initial ball heading, and for curved free-kicks this resulted in biases in a direction opposite to those necessary to save the free-kick. These movement errors result in less time to cover a now greater distance to stop the ball entering the goal. These and other details of the interceptive behaviour are explained using a simple mathematical model which shows how the goalkeeper controls his movements online with respect to the ball's current heading direction. Furthermore our results and model suggest how visual landmarks, such as the goalposts in this instance, may constrain the extent of the movement biases.Conclusions: While it has previously been shown that humans can internalize the effects of gravitational acceleration, these results show that it is much more difficult for goalkeepers to account for spin-induced visual acceleration, which varies from situation to situation. The limited sensitivity of the human visual system for detecting acceleration, suggests that curved free-kicks are an important goal-scoring opportunity in the game of soccer.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 6 Oct 2010


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