Soccer is the world’s most popular sport partly because the only piece of equipment you need is a ball. But to maximize the sport’s accessibility, particularly in impoverished communities where a deflated ball can mean game over, Japanese design studio nendo created a non-inflatable soccer ball alternative that assembles like a jigsaw puzzle.
Working with Molten, a supplier of balls for several official sports leagues, nendo’s designers were inspired by the makeshift soccer balls that are often created by weaving together materials like bamboo. They’re not inflatable and lack the bladder you’ll find inside real soccer balls that help gives them rigidity and bounce, but the weaving process results in enough tension on the various pieces that these makeshift balls should provide a very similar experience as they’re kicked up and down a soccer field. They don’t last forever, but they retain their shape and bounce even as they wear down or get damaged.
nendo’s ‘my football kit’ comes flat-packed like a piece of Ikea furniture (another advantage is that the DIY balls are cheaper and easier to ship) requiring a step-by-step manual to be followed to correctly assemble the 54 separate pieces into a spherical ball. Instead of natural materials like bamboo, the various pieces of nendo’s non-inflatable ball are made from recycled polypropylene and elastomeric synthetic resin. It makes the ball durable and gives it bounce but it’s also flexible enough to feel soft on feet when kicked. The specific materials were also chosen because when they break or shatter there’s less of a chance the smaller pieces having sharp edges that could cause injuries.
The ball’s modularity also means that should one of the pieces break a repair is as simple as swapping in a replacement, assuming spare parts are readily available or included with the kit. Will nendo’s creative design one day replace soccer balls at the amateur or professional levels? It doesn’t seem likely any time soon, but the color schemes of the various components can be customized and balls can be easily branded with logos or sponsors which is what’s really important in sports, right?