The link between sports and maths

Jun 2018
Have you ever given much thought to the maths involved in sports?

A fantastic summer of sport has already begun with the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, and it's only set to become even more exciting with Wimbledon, the Tour de France and many more sporting events due to take place in the coming months. But have you ever considered just how much maths is involved in sports?

From predicting outcomes to finding the right corner in the goal to spinning the perfect serve, most successful sportsmen and women are secret mathematicians at heart.

As we are in the midst of the 2018 World Cup let's begin with football!

Dr Ken Bray of the University of Bath has concluded that 30% of the best players in the world have an intuitive understanding of maths, particularly geometry, aiding their precision in passing, taking free kicks, and positioning themselves on the field.

Dr. Bray has worked out that, when it comes to free kicks, the ball needed to be struck with an elevation of 16 degrees, at a speed of 60-70mph and spun at 600 revolutions per minute, from 25 yards.

Let's consider the perfect tennis serve. It's no good just serving as fast as you can and hoping for the best if you serve in the same way every time because your opponent will learn to respond. To keep your opponent guessing you must put a certain amount of spin on the ball which makes it very hard to predict where that ball will go.

In fact it's a careful combination of slice spin, top spin and bounce direction that make it so difficult for a good serve to be returned.

In throwing, jumping, gymnastics, the velodrome, diving, and so many other athletic sports there are a number of mathematics elements involved. Particularly when it comes to the rotation of the body.

If you think about diving, in order to flip and spin, the athlete must be symmetrical and learn to distribute their body mass to create the shapes seamlessly. This involves the mathematical concept of inertia.

There are a number of other characteristics that athletes demonstrate. The ability to persevere, to work hard and develop their skill, even when they are faced with seemingly impossible barriers to overcome. Not dissimilar characteristics to those required to learn complex mathematical problems.

Thus in many ways, a celebration of sport is a celebration of maths! So the next time you're watching your favourite team or cheering on your sporting hero, remember the maths that's at work!