Physics is the science of matter and energy in our natural world. Now, that definition may not scream football, but there would be no football without Physics and therefore no Super Bowl! Let’s explore the fundamental physics of football that we may have seen in our Physics class.
Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion
The best way to start exploring football physics is with Newton’s First Law of Motion. This law states that an object in motion will stay in motion, and an object at rest will stay at rest, unless an external force is applied. To relate this law to football, we’ll start with the kickoff. Before kickoff, the football is placed on a stand, waiting to be kicked to the other team. That football will remain at rest on that stand until the kicker applies an external force on the ball. After the ball has been kicked, the ball is in motion as it flies across the field to the other team. That ball will remain in motion until an external force is once again applied to it. There are many other ways to show Newton’s First Law of Motion on the football, but let’s move on to Newton’s next law.
Newton’s Second Law of Motion states that a force on an object is equal to the mass of the object multiplied by its acceleration (F=ma). This time, let’s focus on the players. When a linebacker is about to sack the quarterback, what is the force that linebacker will exert on the quarterback? First, you need to know his mass and the acceleration he has when hitting the quarterback. If we have a 112kg linebacker and he is accelerating at 8 m/s2 towards the quarterback, then the linebacker would exert a force of 896 Newton force on the quarterback! That is just one example, but everything in football that has a mass and acceleration will have a force.
Finally, we have Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which states that every force has an equal and opposite reaction force. When examining this law, think of a punt. When the punter kicks the ball, his foot exerts a force on the ball. The football then exerts an equal amount of force in the opposite direction on the kicker’s foot.
There is another very important aspect of football physics: projectile motion. Every time the football is in the air, it follows the projectile motion path. A field goal attempt is a perfect example of projectile motion. Knowing the speed of the ball and the time the ball is airborne can give you information about that path. You can use kinematic equations to see if the ball will have enough amplitude to be good.
As shown, there is a lot of physics involved in football. Though physics may seem like a tough subject to understand when you are in high school, there are a lot of real-world applications for it. At Learning Ascent Tutoring, we can make it easier to understand the complicated nature of physics and find even more fun ways to apply what you learn in class to things you enjoy, just like football physics!