Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The WORLDS Best Stick - is it a Floorball stick?

The Floorball Stick
The first floorball sticks were invented in the late 60-ties and were a basic product. They were designed for kids to be played within schools.

A short plastic pipe had been plugged at one end and a solid little blade of low grade plastic (polyethylene) was mounted with a little staple to the other end. These first versions of sticks were so soft that it was hard to play with them; very soon however, the clever manufacturers added an additional, smaller pipe that was placed inside of the first pipe to make the stick more stiff and more playable, but also heavier. It did however improve the game.

Most children playing these sticks at school figured out the trick and took the sticks apart and in some cases they used these sticks without the inner, extra pipe; but since these sticks were not efficient, they often were handed over to the weakest players in school.

Within a couple of years, the singlemost, as well as the most important invention for the floorball stick came along. Suddenly, the blades received an open face.

An open face is a stick blade that is not solid like a regular hockey blade or a table tennis paddle. This new blade was open like a tennis or a racquetball racket, letting through air.

On a stick, that is rather long compared to a tennis racket, this makes a difference. The speed of the blade will increase since it will let through so much more air. This invention is one of the most crucial designs that today allows a few players to shoot a floorball ball at speeds up over 100mph. In fact, the current world record for ball speed has been measured at 117mph in controlled settings. The comparable ice hockey slap shot reaches 105 mph.

Longer Sticks?
The first sticks where short, about 30 inches and designed for kids. Soon, new products found their way to the market that were slightly longer and had a much stiffer shaft. These sticks were aimed and designed for high school pupils and the birth of a more advanced sport was the imminent result of this development. The interesting matter here though is that since the speed of the sport increased, it actually limited the length of the sticks, since longer sticks slow down a player. For adult players some kind of a standard length around 38 inches was a limit.

Although ice hockey players and tall floorballers starting to play floorball ask for a longer stick, they eventually realise that it is inconvenient albeit they have a larger reach.

Stick Compounds
The next major development is the introduction of new compounds. In 1994, fiberglass was being used in the shaft to make it stiffer and lightweight. Later in that same year and early into 1995 we saw the introduction of kevlar and carbon fibre as material being used for floorball sticks as well. A new way of attaching the shaft into the blade with a pre-drilled hole in the shaft using screws became at this time more or less the standard.

This was a good thing since in early school years since abused sticks that were stapled to the pipe shaft occasionally came loose and flew in any direction at any given time, potentially causing injuries. So with development the sticks, the sport got safer.

With 1996 came the introduction of oval shafts. An oval shaft is good since it provides the stick with different flex in different directions. Furthermore, the oval shape of the stick acts like an tactile indicator for the player; by just holding the stick he or she can feel what direction the blade points at. Others also argue that an oval shaft might lower air drag; although this has not been proven and remains hypothetical.

Technological Advances
The stiffness or flex of a stick is very important. A stiff stick can shoot much harder than a softer stick, but on the contrary the stick looses its sensitivity, control and feel for the player.

The ball gets therefore harder to control when you play with a too stiff stick.

A stiff shaft has the other technical and dangerous disadvantage that it cannot handle violence very well; it would easily crack and break. So the rules of the sport define that a floorball stick must not be built not too stiff; it must have a certain degree of flex and there are several testing methods used for different lengths of sticks today. Almost all sticks sold at the moment must be approved by the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden, by appointment of the International Floorball Federation (IFF).

The end of 1999 presented a new kind of material; boron, a ceramic compound, was moulded together with nets of titan as the main component in the floorball
stick design. Come 2003, a new manufacturing technology was being used called "blow injection moulding" and some producers were able to shape their shaft in many different ways. We saw shafts shaped with bubbles or similar shapes; something that allowed the manufacturer to move the flex of a stick along a shaft to where it might be needed the best.

The use of materials such as fiberglass and carbon fiber, as well as other material shaped under high pressure have taken the advanced floorball sticks into space age.

The graphically designed sticks also came along with a new attitude and a street feel that made the sport more groovy than ever before.

With the most modern technology many manufacturers chased the lightest stick possible. A light weight stick has the proven advantage that it is easy to move the stick faster as well as to shoot very hard.

The Grip and the Blade
Another area that has seen some development is the grip for the stick. Many different solutions have been on the market and some solutions showed sticks developed with a grip that in a realistic manner fits into the palm of a hand. That means a hand grip that is much wider than the rest of the stick or even designed like the handle of a pistol. The market has also seen sticks with tactile solutions that seem to make the player aware of which direction he or she is holding his stick without even looking at the blade; something that also can be achieved by a grip that is oval in its shape.

The blades sold today are of course hooked into either a left or right hook. Besides this, they are designed in three main directions. Some players prefer to play a blade that is very flat, which tends to keep the ball on the ground and plays very exact and precise balls while passing or shooting. Others use a blade that is curved from the floor up over the face of the blade. Something that makes it easier to play balls higher into the air and another theory behind this design is that you can shoot somewhat earlier in a swing as the blade can hit the ball earlier with more angle over the ball as you want to keep the ball on the floor. The more curved or scooped blade from the bottom up offers also a better way to control the ball as you dribble the ball since it kind of curves over the ball in a small sense.

The third kind of a blade is a "zorro" blade. This blade has a scoop or bowl for the ball at the top of the blade, still kept within the legal rule of max a 30 mm (a bit more than one inch) hook of the blade. A Zorro blade offers superior control and some few players easily pick the ball up as if it were glued to the blade, up into the air. Although many will refer to this as a lacrosse style goal when scored in a game (a la Crosby), the true name is zorroing and anyone can amuse themselves by punching in "floorball" and "zorro" as search terms on YouTube and will be guaranteed to fall of their chair as they watch what can be done. Some good floorball players can achieve zorro tricks with regular sticks and blades with not very much hook on at all.

Other inventions on the blade are a pattern on the bottom of the blade to minimize friction on the floor and graphical markers (or a colorful blade itself) that act like an indicator for the player to see the direction of the blade; even as their focus of sight is in another direction. This might be a bit bogus though since the human vision actually looses its ability to see colors in the part of our sight that is out of focus.

The heel of a blade (behind where the shaft extends down into the blade) is another area with much development lately. All blades are now mainly made out of polyethylene or poly-amide.

Design Solutions
Besides the driven technological development in the material of the stick, other new design solutions have matured to the market.

There have been sticks that thanks to the design of a shaft became more narrow and offered lower air resistance out at the ball, creating a more distributed flex closer to the blade. This was an early solution on how to tinker with the flex of a stick.

Lately, sticks have been developed with bamboo design, to optimize weight, speed, and flex. Other solutions have covered different changes to the shaft with the intention to move the flex of the stick closer to the blade.

A new solution last year was the curved floorball blade. Here, a little curve gave the blade a little incline of in between 1.5 to 3 degrees towards the shaft. In this solution, it was said that the curve made the stick more stiff closer to the blade and it also provided the player with the opportunity to shoot a fraction of a millisecond earlier.

Last year, the fall of 2008, saw the introduction of bow sticks and there are also sticks with an indent for an optimized "kick-zone" in the flex as you shoot. The main difference with the bow solution is that the whole shaft is designed as a curved bow, so the stiffness and the flex in the shooting direction has been optimized; the bow further provides the player with the same angle of attack of a few degrees described as we discussed the blade-curve solution. Some critics however think that these sticks take the ball too high into the air too often. A few of the latest ice hockey sticks have what are called air holes in the shaft to address flex and minimize air drag; and yes, there are floorball sticks available with that same design. The fall of 2009 allowed the market to see the introduction of what is called the S-bow shaft for a floorball stick. But as development continues, the prices also do rise. And will you as a beginner or intermediate player be fine with a more basic stick? Yes, you will.

The Ball
The whiffle ball was invented in 1953 by an American. It started to be used in Sweden for Floorball in the late 60-ties. The main development of the ball for floorball purposes came in October 2003 as the first whiffle kind of a ball with dimples came on to the market. It almost looks like a larger golf ball, it has 1516 small dimples to reduce air drag and roll resistance on the floor. The Floorball ball weighs 23 grams and has 26 holes, with a diameter of 72 mm; slightly smaller than three inches.

What's Next?
It is hard to say; but it would not surprise the author if the next thing may be LED's or sonic indicators in a Floorball stick. Perhaps technology that would allow an adjustment in air speed?

Maybe the most amazing comparison is as we compare this development to other sports? What happened to equipment development in other sports? Do you think evolution will present a soccer ball with dimples, or an ice hockey puck designed and optimized with dimples too?

John F. Kennedy may not have known anything about floorball but still he said: "Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."

Text: Michael Borg
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Caution

Research suggest that eye-injuries are more common in Floorball as compared to Tennis, but less common as compared to Squash (similar to Racquetball).
To minimize this risk of injury Floorballcentral recommend: Use certified protective eye-wear (mandated in many European areas for the youth). Do not lay down on the court. Follow the rules strict on stick height.

Also if you get addicted to this sport - do not blame us!