A Moment of Science

And… It’s Good! The Science Of NFL Punting

When a kicker kicks the football down field, what is he calculating?

football punter

Photo: Jon Oropeza (Flickr)

To achieve the best punt, the kicker must time everything perfectly.

How do kickers launch a football 120 feet in the air at 90 miles per hour? To get the most speed and distance out of the football, kickers use something called projectile motion.

Speed And Distance

The history of projectile motion can be traced back to the days of Galileo. Galileo studied the curve of objects in motion known as a parabola.

The Ideal Punt

For an ideal punt, the kicker must drop the ball level, with the nose of the ball pointed slightly up. At contact, the kicker’s leg will straighten out.

The farthest and fastest balls are launched at the moment when the kicker’s leg is straight. The ball travels on a path following the laws of gravity.

Projectile Motion And Vectors

Once the ball is airborne, it becomes a projectile and follows a path called a parabolic arch or parabola.

The ball then becomes affected by two types of velocity: a horizontal velocity and a vertical velocity. The horizontal component is the speed it travels along the ground. The vertical component is the height the ball achieves.

These two measurements can be described as vectors. Gravity causes the football to reach it’s top point of trajectory. At the top point, the ball has no up or down speed. As the ball begins to drop, gravity increases the ball’s speed.

A good punter will try to get the ball to hang in the air as long as possible.

Watch The Video:

  • Science of NFL Football: Projectile Motion and Parabolas (Science360)

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Margaret Aprison

Margaret is a graduate of Indiana University with a degree in Telecommunications and a minor in Psychology. The daughter of two scientists, Margaret has been surrounded by the subject her entire life. She enjoys social media, writing, television, and, of course, science!

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