Soccer is the world’s most popular sport in part because all you need is some grass and a ball to play. But while a $12 soccer ball doesn’t sound very expensive to those of us in the United States, for much of the developing world, it is—costing more than a family’s monthly income. Especially when you pair an inflating pump, or consider that a ball’s inner bladder can leak or pop over time, the price of the sport can be prohibitive for large swaths of the population.
Recognizing all this, the Japanese design firm Nendo designed a quirky soccer ball that doesn’t need to be inflated to be kicked. And if one section beaks, you can just replace it.
Dubbed the My Football Kit, and designed for the recreational ball company Molten, the ball is constructed from 54 interlocking parts, which are shipped disassembled. With this flat pack approach (think Ikea), 20 deconstructed Nendo balls can fit into the space of 12 regular soccer balls, cutting down on shipping costs.
Instead of relying upon air pressure to keep its form, My Football Kit was inspired by the interwoven frames of takeami, or traditional Japanese bamboo weaving. The kit features a plastic skeleton, which easily locks together with an integrated hole-peg system. That skeleton is reinforced by more skeleton, this time in the form of snap-in pentagon frames to help the ball hold its shape when kicked.
Once this framing is complete, the user is left with a functional, wireframe ball, but your toes could easily get stuck in its open-air, polygonal facets. So for the final step, you fill in those facets with snap-in polygons made out of a stretchy, bouncy resin.
While this design might seem overwrought—a simple, one-piece soccer ball now has 54 distinct parts!—its modular design ensures that if one panel gets damaged, the ball still works because the air doesn’t simply escape, rendering it useless. When convenient, or affordable, that one panel can be swapped out without replacing the whole ball. Plus, you don’t need a pump to keep it inflated.
If you’re wondering why no one has ever thought about this problem before, well, they have! About a decade ago, the One Futball Project raised funds to distribute over a million soccer balls made out of a durable, rubbery foam, with a buy-one-get-one model like Tom’s shoes. We reached out to One Futball to hear about the for-profit company’s latest developments. Today, its website is largely nonfunctional.
As of now, it’s unclear if Molten will take the Nendo design to market, and what the company would charge per ball if so. We’ve reached out to the company to ask, and we will update this story with more information when we hear back.