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The measurement of both speed and direction.

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Threading the Needle

Threading the Needle

Credit: SD Dirk
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dirkhansen/3097613370/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

It’s called “threading the needle” in football. It means throwing the football through a gap between opposing players that’s just big enough for the football to fit through. Although this quarterback may not realize it, “threading the needle” depends on physics.

The Back Story

  • Besides just “threading the needle,” the quarterback has to make sure the ball reaches the receiver, or the player who will catch it. It’s a complicated problem.
  • The quarterback has to release the ball at just the right speed and in exactly the right direction to get it where it needs to go. And if he’s running at the same time, his own speed and direction have to be factored in.
  • Credit: Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office
    Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kyngpao/9723274227
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    A receiver about to catch a throw from the quarterback [Figure2]


  • Whew! Now that’s a physics problem! Watch this video to see how it can be solved: http://www.nbclearn.com/nfl/cuecard/50692

Show What You Know

At the link below, learn more about velocity and vectors in football. Then answer the following questions.

  1. What is a vector? How vectors are usually represented? Why is velocity a vector?
  2. How many vectors are needed to represent a running quarterback who throws the football to a stationary receiver? What are the vectors?
  3. How can you use the parallelogram method to find the vector that will take the ball from the quarterback to the receiver in question 2?
  4. What are other examples of objects or phenomena that can be represented by vectors?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: SD Dirk; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dirkhansen/3097613370/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office; Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kyngpao/9723274227; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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