It is widely considered the most popular game on earth. Played by millions of people from nearly every walk of life, and in nearly every nation, soccer – football or futbol as it is commonly known beyond the borders of the United States – is a sport that can be played by nearly anyone. Aside from the skills needed to maneuver the ball using your body, but not your hands – except for the goal keeper – soccer owes much of its international appeal to the fact that all you need to play is an open space and a single ball.
The mountains of equipment needed to play other sports – like tennis, golf, baseball, American football, and so many others – are an anathema to the soccer player. It is the ball, and only the ball, that one needs to play the game. But the soccer ball is not a generic item; there are many kinds of soccer balls on the market, and each has its own characteristics that differentiate it from the other balls.
At first glance it is hard to tell one soccer ball from another. Usually constructed in the same distinctive style, the trademark pentagonal and hexagonal panels make a soccer ball instantly recognizable. However, when you are trying to tell the difference between one ball and another, the first place to start is the cover.
In the past, full grain leather was used to make a top quality soccer ball, but real leather tends to absorb water easily, and a wet ball is a heavy ball that plays much differently than it was intended to play. Today, the first quality soccer balls are constructed from synthetic leather. Although there are many variations of synthetic leather, they are generally all a derivative of polyurethane or poly vinyl chloride. The best balls – those used in competition and by professionals – are almost always made of the polyurethane construction, while inexpensive practice balls are more likely to be poly vinyl chloride.
The way the panels of the soccer ball are stitched together is another indication of the quality of the ball. A high quality ball is going to be hand stitched with polyester cord or Kevlar reinforced polyester. Hand stitching allows the panels to be sewn tighter, which makes for a stronger and longer lasting soccer ball. Second-tier soccer balls are usually stitched as well, but the stitching is done by machine so it lacks the uncompromising quality that a hand stitched ball will possess. Inexpensive balls are usually not stitched at all, and instead are held together by gluing the panels onto the lining of the ball.
Soccer balls come in different sizes as well: Size 3, Size 4, and Size 5. Size 3 balls are the smallest balls and are typically used by players under the age of eight. Size 4 balls are the next size up, and players between the ages of eight and twelve use this size of ball. Size 5 balls are the standard size for adult play and are the standard size balls for all international play.
When shopping for a soccer ball it is important to have an eye for its size and construction. If you are unsure that the ball you are considering is of good quality, look to see if the ball is approved by either FIFA or NFHS. FIFA, Fédération Internationale de Football Association, and NFHS, the National Federation of State High School Association, both approve balls that meet the strict specifications that are outlined by each organization. If you purchase a ball that is approved by either governing body then you are almost assured of a ball that is of high quality in both construction and performance.