How to Shoot a Knuckleball in Soccer?
The knuckleball, also known as the “floating ball”, in soccer is one of the most challenging types of shots a player can master.
The greats like Cristiano Ronaldo, whom many consider the king of the knuckleball shot in soccer, manages to mess up sometimes.
If you happen to work on it and execute it perfectly, the knuckleball will seem to suddenly dip while in mid-air. This makes it unpredictable for goalkeepers to stop.
Now, you might be thinking that if even the pros have a difficult time executing the knuckleball in soccer, “how could I do it?”
In this article, we’ll walk you through how to shoot a knuckleball in soccer!
What is a Knuckleball in Soccer?
First things first, what is a knuckleball in soccer? Similarly to baseball, soccer also has its own version of the knuckleball. In soccer, a knuckleball is a ball that is kicked and followed by an unpredictable, zigzagging trajectory.
The soccer ball doesn’t have much of a rotation – if any at all – which causes it to dip or go left to right in an instant.
This unpredictability makes the knuckleball shot one of the most difficult to defend against.
You will need to have control when transferring power from your foot to the ball. It is also crucial to position your foot properly so you won’t give the ball unwanted spin.
The lack of spin is the one secret to an effective knuckleball. But, it’s always easier said than done.
Before we get to the “how-to”, we’ll take a quick look at the history of the knuckleball. Feel free to skip over it if history is not your thing!
The History of the Knuckleball
According to the official records, the earliest known use of the knuckleball shot was way back in the 50s and can be attributed to legendary professional Brazilian player, Didi (Waldyr Pereira).
However, his version of the knuckleball was quite different mainly because of the way soccer balls were made back then.
The modern knuckleball gained popularity back in 2006 when Adidas changed the way they manufactured their soccer balls.
The new balls used fewer panels and added more surface dimples that made them more aerodynamic.
During that time, Juninho Pernambucano, a professional free-kick expert, became the first pro player to do modern knuckleball as described in the next section.
He put it to effective use regularly in Ligue 1 during his prime years playing professionally.
Step-by-Step Instructions to Shoot the Knuckleball
Before we start, it is recommended that you use an official soccer ball for practicing this type of shot.
Most soccer balls that you find at major online and offline retailers are made out of synthetic leather. This is what you will want to use.
Unlike rubber soccer balls, official balls can provide you with more consistent results, which means you will more likely be able to replicate the knuckleball during a match.
Step 1) Run up to the ball
It is recommended to start your run-up at around 4 to 6 steps away, and a step slightly to the left or right of the ball depending on which foot you will be using to shoot.
You can also do what Cristiano Ronaldo does. Run up to the ball slightly on your toes so you can prepare yourself to connect with the ball with the right part of your foot.
Step 2) Position your supporting foot
Practice until you can naturally position your supporting foot at around six inches to the side of the ball where you will be kicking it.
You will need to practice this step quite a lot until you can do it naturally.
Step 3) Strike the center of the ball
This is the most important step. In order to effectively shoot a knuckleball, the ball cannot have rotation.
To accomplish this, practice until you can effectively hit the ball just below the center point. To help you practice, face the valve of the ball towards you so you can see where you need to hit the ball.
Also, make sure that you contact the ball with your instep or laces. You need to lock your ankle just before the point of contact to prevent getting injured.
Step 4) Establish proper body posture
If you lean back too far, there is a high probability that the ball will rise more than you want.
Ensure that you have a strong posture but leaning slightly forward over the ball as you approach to kick the ball.
This will give you more control over the distance and trajectory you want the ball to travel.
Step 5) Perfect the follow-through
If you want to successfully pull off the knuckleball shot, you should perfect the follow-through.
Right after hitting the ball, continue moving your body in the same direction as the ball. This will impart the momentum of your body weight into the ball.
As you can see, the steps are quite simple on the web but the knuckleball shot is difficult to master.
You will need to practice it as often as you can without getting too frustrated. The reality is, when you first try it there will be times the ball rotates, your foot hits the ground first or you lean back too much. The key is to stick with it until you get momentum. From here, it’s the little tweaks that will make the biggest impact.
Since its introduction, the knuckleball has been used by many notable players, including Roberto Carlos, Juninho Pernambucano and Cristiano Ronaldo.
It has become a popular technique for free kicks, as the unpredictable movement of the ball can make it difficult for the goalkeeper to make a save.
In today’s game, the knuckleball remains an effective type of shot that is diffcult for keepers to anticipate.