Football vector diagram

[Image above] Credit: National Science Foundation, YouTube


This Thanksgiving week, as we reflect on the many blessings we have received, we must also give thanks for the many football games we are about to watch.

While many football fans understand that the game requires its players to possess a number of skills such as strength, running, throwing, and kicking, to name a few, there really is a lot of science and physics involved in playing the game.

That’s why NBC Learn partnered with the NFL and the National Science Foundation a few years ago to create a series of videos designed to teach people about the science behind various plays used during a football game.

Take vectors, for instance.

A vector is a quantity that has magnitude and direction, and is represented by an arrow where the direction equals that of the quantity and the length corresponds to the magnitude of the quantity.

Got that?

In football, the quarterback needs to quickly calculate the precise moment when the football reaches his target receiver. And that involves determining his vectors.

“The quarterback has under his control how hard he throws the ball or with what speed and in what direction,” Clemson University Professor Emeritus John Ziegert says in today’s video.

“The speed and direction the football needs to reach a receiver is known as … a vector, because it has both a length and a direction—in this case a velocity vector,” NBC reporter Lester Holt explains in the video.

The magnitude and direction of the ball creates the velocity vector. Holt explains that most of the time a quarterback has to run in a different direction to throw the ball at his target receiver. He ends up creating a second and sometimes a third vector as he attempts to throw the ball.

During an actual game, Holt says, “the quarterback has to calculate all of his vectors in a split second: the vector of his rollout, vector of the receiver, and the vector the ball must fly to reach its target.”

In other words, a quarterback can be a great thrower and perhaps a good runner, but it is really his science skills that will enable him to get the ball to his receiver.

And you thought football was all about running, throwing, kicking, and tackling.

Watch the video below to learn more about how vectors help quarterbacks get their ball to the target.


Credit: National Science Foundation, YouTube

Visit this link to learn more about Newton’s three laws of motion, the Pythagorean Theorem, and other cool laws of science in the NBC Learn series, “Science of NFL Football.”