Game On! Finding A Football For Your Programby: Jim DouvilleAssistant Coach, Newman Catholic High School, Wausau (WI)
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One of my high school coaches once took a break from our two-a-day practice and held up a football. “Can any of you tell me how long a football is?” he asked.
Like most players and coaches, I never knew the exact length of a football (and as a lineman, my regular hands-on experience with footballs in practice was slim to none). We were stumped.
“Eleven and a quarter inches,” he said. “I tell you this because that 11 ¼ inches is the difference between winning and losing. Whichever team controls this very small area of land will be the one who gets to celebrate at the end of any game.”
Of course, our coach used ‘controlling the football’ in a big-picture strategic sense, but we’ll use that anecdote this month as a springboard to a look at the physical properties of footballs – especially in light of the fact that there have been recent changes to the makeup of two commonly-used balls.
Our state league, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA), determines the model and manufacturer of the football used for high school competition. Most states have a similar setup; a governing body that sanctions your contests will have final say on the type of ball that can be used.
Our individual conferences determine the rules regarding those balls. For example, our conference has determined that the home team is to supply two new footballs for every game, which are then checked and marked by the officiating crew before kickoff. Stipulations may vary from conference to conference.
When it comes to actual footballs, our jobs as coaches are made easy: buy two of the league-approved balls for every home game. After the game they’re put into use for practice and/or JV and freshman games.
The Wilson GST is one of the most widely-used footballs at the high school and college level. At the core of the Wilson GST is a three-ply bladder that works to help retain the air and pressure of the ball while offering moisture control. A multi-layered lining surrounds the bladder to create a longer-lasting shape.
This shape separates the Wilson GST from the ball we use in our conference, the Wilson TDS. The TDS is narrower – it’s better suited for the high school game because it’s easier for developing players to throw, catch and carry. The GST’s fatter circumference is better suited for bigger players at the college level.
However, many conferences and states are switching to the GST so players can get comfortable with the ball used at the next level of competition. Beginning this season, Wisconsin conferences have the choice to use either the TDS or GST during the regular season. But, when the state playoffs begin, the GST is the only ball that will be used.
The Wilson GST also offers Accurate Control Lacing (ACL), which is made of pebbled composite leather. According to Wilson, the new lacing provides 174% more grip than traditional laces. WE Leather encases the three-ply bladder and lining.
Finally, a second difference between the GST and the TDS is the GST’s laid-in stripes, which are composite leather and sewn to the outside of the ball. This makeup replaces the painted-on stripes of the TDS and makes the GST more durable (the painted-on strips are susceptible to peeling after repeated wear). And the GST’s sewn-on stripes are more grippable than traditional painted stripes, according to Wilson.
Wilson balls, of course, are durable. It’ll be awhile before you see noticeable deterioration. It’ll be several seasons before you notice the balls starting to get plump or lose the pebbled grip.
This season, Wilson has updated the GST with new graphics and a lighter brown dye.
Nike Aero Elite
The Nike Aero Elite collegiate is the official game ball for more than 70 top college programs. It’s also widely used in high school. This ball brings a lot of the same features to the table and offers some differences to the Wilson GTS.
According to Nike, the bladder of the Aero elite has been built to offer great air retention and durability. This bladder is then encased in a thin layer of neoprene. This layer gives a bit of cushion to the ball, allowing a player to squeeze it and grip it better. Surrounding the thin padded layer of neoprene is a cushioned layer of high-tack Horween 864 full-grain leather, which is waterproof and offers an excellent gripping surface. Grooved high-tack laces are threaded into the Horween leather and have micro-channels to improve touch and control.
Unlike the Wilson GST, the Aero Elite has painted-on stripes instead of the stitched composite leather stripes.
Nike improved the Aero Elite this season with updated graphics and by adding Precision Balance Technology. This system includes a slight counter balance underneath the leather of the backside of the ball to offset the weight of the laces. According to Nike, this counterbalance makes the ball easier to throw and creates tighter spirals. These balls have been approved for use this season (Nike teams were allowed to test and use reskined balls in 2009 to develop and collect data).
The Spalding J5V Advance is made from proprietary “S” tack Horween leather cover, and has am SBR foam rubber backing that has been added to enhance the overall feel of the ball. Along with these attributes the Advance is equipped with a DCW rubberized grip to provide ultimate grip in any condition. The diamond cross weave pattern is designed to enhance the feel, and decrease slippage. The ball is approved by the NCAA and the NFHS. Spalding is also the official ball within the following conferences: MEAC, SIAC, SWAC, and the CIAA. This is also the state adopted football within over 14 states.
SPARQ (now a subsidiary of Nike) is a company that specializes in training equipment for all sports. One of the products I like is the SPARQ iBall, a composite football that focuses on vision training for receivers.
The iBall has a number of colored rings on either side of the ball to help players with hand-eye coordination, speed of recognition and ability to track targets in motion. The SPARQ iBall is one of the first footballs to offer a recognition and identification vision test while the ball is in flight. Color call-out drills help receivers concentrate on the ball and develop faster decision-making skills. Muscle memory is obtained through repetition, and pass catching (and defensive ball-hawking) skills can be developed with the correct use of a product like the SPARQ iBall.
(If you’re limited in funding and still would like to get your players involved in these types of drills and activities, try painting or taping different colored “rings” on an old football).
SPARQ Power Football
Another SPARQ product that can offer great benefits to developing players is the SPARQ Power Football. It’s essentially a rubber medicine ball in the shape of a football. The extra weight allows skill players and centers to gain strength and develop a firm grip for ball security. Centers can use it to increase hand speed for under-center and shotgun snaps. Receivers can warm up their hands and increase grip strength through rugby tosses, granny throws and chest passes with a training partner. Running backs can increase strength by incorporating into training drills. Quarterbacks can use it to increase arm strength.
A word of warning: because the Power Football does weigh more, I advise players to allow extra time and reps when warming up with it. Quarterbacks can injure an arm if their first pass with a weighted ball is a 40-yard bomb. Treat it like any other weight-training device and approach it with a sensible plan to avoid injury.