by Craig Blake
Obviously, having the right soccer ball is pretty important if you want to play a competitive soccer game. Once you've gotten your soccer cleats, soccer jerseys, soccer socks and other soccer gear ready to go, you aren't going to get very far without a soccer ball. There are three basic sizes of soccer balls. Players who are 5 to 8 years old play with a size three soccer ball. Youth soccer, ages 4 to 12, play with a size four, and anyone 13 and over plays with a size five. After that, soccer balls come in a variety of different materials and panel designs. A soccer ball has three basic pieces: the cover, the lining and the bladder. Each affects the "feel" and "control" of the ball.
Cover: The cover is the exterior of the ball that makes contact with your foot, and the best soccer balls usually feature a synthetic cover. Synthetic covers are generally softer and more responsive than others, which are usually polyurethane (PU). Balls with synthetic covers are also more expensive, and they can get water-logged in wet conditions. Cheap soccer balls usually feature a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) cover, but they are quite durable and water-resistant. You can get rubber soccer balls for very cheap, but although they are very durable, they will have a very different feel than other soccer balls, and they aren't used in leagues. Leather balls are also still an option, but they aren't as durable as synthetic soccer balls. Whichever material you get, it will consist of panels stitched or glued together. Most soccer ball covers have 32 panels. Some feature 18- and 26-panel designs. The fewer the panels, the more bend you'll get when you kick. Stitched panels make for a softer ball than do glued panels, and hand-stitched soccer balls are generally considered the highest quality. Most soccer balls are made with 32 panels, although Major League Soccer in the United States uses a soccer ball with 18 panels.
Lining: Linings go between the cover and the bladder to provide structure and shape. The best soccer balls usually have four layers of cotton and polyester. Cheap soccer balls will usually have two polyester layers.
Bladder: The bladder holds the air in the soccer ball. High-end balls usually have a latex bladder, which offers a superior feel. Balls with latex bladders will require more frequent inflating than less-expensive soccer balls with butyl bladders, however. As far as valves (the part where you insert the air pump into the bladder) go, butyl valves are most common, but silicone-treated valves will perform better.