It’s not easy to find, but if you’re a complete soccer nerd, there are some very interesting articles out there on the physics of soccer balls and the design efforts and advancements that go into them. One site called SoccerBallWorld has some very interesting pages dedicated to the history, physics, construction, and development of the soccer ball. It’s a commercial site but they really do have lots of interesting information. Google, as always, turned up some other articles related to soccer ball Geodesic Geometry and the physics of soccer.
Many of us have seen the high visibility Yellow and Blue soccer ball from Nike with various width rings instead of the standard patchwork. Is it just designed that way to be ‘cool’ or is Nike onto something with those rings?
Even people who have no idea how soccer is played will recognize your standard white soccer ball with black hexagon patches. But lately the ball manufacturers have gone crazy with new designs. Some must be meant to induce nausea when they spin, but you have to wonder if others were designed with a bigger purpose in mind. Nike has clearly chosen to go with the rings of varying width. If you haven’t seen this ball in action, it is interesting to watch. The rings stay perfectly still, wobble a bit, or spin wildly depending on where the ball was contacted and the amount of spin on it. The big question is, do they help a player better judge how a ball is spinning in mid flight? Other companies like Adidas have gone with splitting the ball into quadrants like the ball on the left. You see this type of ball in collegiate matches, at least around here, but that is likely due to Adidas being the team sponsor.
I searched for a while trying to find any online research into this question but came up empty. So I can only speak from my own experience and I’d be interested to hear from other coaches who have thought about this. Do any of the new ball patterns make it easier to judge spin?
The standard black and white ball will indicate some spin, but the visual will be the same no matter which direction the ball is spinning since the patches are placed evenly across the surface of the ball. Nike’s rings, and to an extent the Adidas converging lines, seem to provide more visual input on ball spin. If the ball rotates along the axis through the center of the rings, the rings appear motionless or they wobble. This would seem to give your brain a better visual to lock in on when trying to determine how the ball will react when it hits the ground, hits your goalie glove, or your foot when you kick it in mid air. If the ball spins on the perpendicular axis, the rings appear to flip which probably isn’t much more of a useful visual than the standard patchwork ball.
Again, I can only speak for myself and I’m not a collegiate or professional player. But it really does seem easier to see the ball spin with the rings. I’m not sure I’d say the same about the Adidas style, though I think that may be more to do with contrast.
What are your thoughts? Is Nike just trying to develop brand recognition for their soccer balls with the rings or was it a research and design decision? Oh and a hint to Nike’s web team – make those flash animations optional – they make your website completely useless. All I want to see are your products, not testimony to the boredom of your graphic artists!