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Football Physics: The Science of the Game    by Timothy Gay order for
Football Physics
by Timothy Gay
Order:  USA  Can
Rodale, 2004 (2004)

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* *   Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai

I have been reminded of the cultural gap that exists for the ex-patriot Brit living in North America. Prepared to review a book on the physics of football, I was looking forward to reading about a round ball and teams kicking it around that is, soccer to North Americans! My mistake!

However, I have gamely (excuse the pun!) worked my way through Timothy Gay's beautifully bound book and found it quite enlightening. However, I doubt that many football fanatics would be able to read the book from cover to cover (after all, this might interfere with their favourite pastime watching the game), just as 'Believe it or not, there have actually been football coaches who never took a geometry or physics course in college.' The physics behind punting, throwing, blocking and carrying a football is fascinating to someone with a science background but I do not think that the ball players themselves even contemplate the science of their sport: 'Skilled ball carriers (and defenders for that matter) know almost instinctively which paths to follow', and 'Success in football follows the famous admonition about getting to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.'

Though Dr. Gay's coverage of the physics of football gives a new slant on both science and sport, the players themselves end up relying on their own instincts and abilities to read wind directions, to adjust for altitude, to feel the field conditions, etc. and this is why pro players are, on the whole, better than high school and college players, because they have had more time to practice their game. The pro player has also had greater opportunity to fine tune his body, which is an extremely complicated biomechanical machine; while the laws of physics remain the same, individual input into the equation from unique players can alter the outcome of any play. Thus, Dr. Gay's book can teach us the basic principles of physics that relate to each play, but it is the individual talent and different fields of play that make the game interesting and unpredictable!

I cannot agree with Timothy Gay's aside 'That God invented football goes without saying', but realize that there are many people who would, without a doubt, support this maxim. For those football fanatics keen enough to study the science, or science teachers interested in the examples, Football Physics makes an unusual and informative gift.

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