Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fastest Ball Sports

Debate about which ball sport is the fastest can be heated. There are many that suggest that Jai Alai (pronounced Hie Lie in English) with ball speeds clocked at 188 MPH is the fastest. The golf drive and badminton smash are also in the mix and may reach even faster speeds. Some have even suggested paintball as the fastest, but we will draw a line there and rule it out as not a ball sport.

Below is some video of Jai Alai. The ball used in Jai Alai consists of metal strands tightly wound together and then wrapped in goat skin. The ball weighs 4.5 to 5 ounces.

Now that you have a feel for Jai Alai, take a look at this Sports Science episode in which long hit golfer Jason Zuback tries to break the 188 MPH ball speed mark set by Jai Alai. As you watch remember that a weight of a golf ball must not exceed 1.620 ounces.

Watching this it seems there can be no question. Zuback's 204 MPH monster drive suggests that golf is the fastest ball sport.

Unfortunately in this Sports Science episode and watching Zuback drive the ball we have no idea how accurate his drive was. He may have imparted 204 MPH to the ball, but if that ball does not go straight down the fairway, that extra power will only put him deeper into the rough.

In his first few attempts, Zuback reaches speeds just under the 188 MPH mark. As long distance driving requires ball speed and accuracy, it is possible his accuracy suffered in his attempt to hit almost 20 MPH faster in his final attempt.

As Jai Alai is played on a court with walls, we will assume that the 188 MPH ball speed recorded is the ball speed that could be reached in the actual sport. While the 204 MPH recorded with the golf drive may not in fact have resulted in a useful golf shot or even long ball drive.

Now think about the mass of the ball in both sports. Newton's 2nd equation of motion states that the less mass (lighter) the ball, the faster it will accelerate and therefore the more speed it will have for the same amount of force. With that idea we can see that the Jai Alai ball which weighs 3 times as much as the heaviest golf ball will require greater force to reach the same speed.

If we were to rephrase our debate and ask which ball sport creates the most force and power, we may now have another argument on our hands.

Video Analysis can help us to analyze these high speed ball sports and others. With video and some inexpensive analysis software we can determine how the athletes create these tremendous ball speeds and possibly (with the right equipment) measure these speeds and even the forces.

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