The Physics of Football
At a quick glance Physics and Football can seem to be on two opposing scales, the study of Physics usually brings to mind long and tedious hours of reading and problem solving, ancient professors with interesting hair, or a frightening amount of complex equations, it is rarely thought of as being coupled with one of America’s favorite pastimes, but what if I told you they were not only on the same scale, but in fact joined?
Football is a fantastic sport, and Physics is the incredibly overlooked “player” on the field that’s really winning the game.
Let’s start with a beginner’s Physics crash course, which requires three of the most famous laws that ever came into existence: Newton’s Three Laws of Motion. Stated simply the laws say this: (N1) an object in motion will continue in motion unless otherwise acted upon by an external force, (N2) F = m*a where F is a force, m is the mass of the object, a is the acceleration (change in the magnitude and direction of the object), and (N3) for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I’ll also throw in some physical terms, momentum (quantity of motion of an object), torque, projectile motion, and parabola. In football, an offensive player’s objective is to get downfield with the ball as far and as fast as possible. A defenders job is to stop the forward progression of the ball, here, the player and the ball are the objects in motion and the defender is the external force.
(N2) – For the football to accelerate, a force must be applied, when the ball is kicked a force is applied that is equal to the ball’s mass times the acceleration. A tackle can stop the ball carrier, (N3) dictates that the total momentum before and after the collision is the same, and that the same force is exerted on both players in a tackle. Punts are an example of projectile motion in football, the beautiful arc that the ball makes after contact is called a parabola.
Torque is anything that causes another object to spin. In football the term “the low man wins” is the coach talking Physics, if you locate the player’s center of mass he can rotate (move) you, if you stay low, it will be harder to be moved. In his Texans vs. Panthers game in September 2015, Cameron newton flipped into the end zone to score a touchdown, a force was applied from his legs exerting a torque causing him to rotate above the defensive player and land in the end zone. In the rerun the sports casters say “he plants his foot and goes airborne” but one could also say, “That’s torque!”
Check out NSEY!
An organization I founded to encourage underrepresented youth to pursue careers in STEAM. My team and I decided that we wanted to make science fun for other youth as well, so of course we talked: The Physics of Football.