Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Maths in Sport - An Overview

When I had the idea for "Maths in Sport", it was already the last week in November. Time was ticking. My plan was to get interviews with famous sportspeople and post their responses here in January. I realised I had to move quick.

So I made a "Wish list" of all the big names in sport that I thought might be interesting to hear from. I also got the kids in my class to list who they thought were the most famous sportspeople in the world. From this list, I started tracking down contacts, websites, PR companies and business managers in the sport industry.

In the end I had 65 names on my list. I aimed at world champions, people at the elite level of their chosen sports. I was able to find some sort of e-mail contact for 57 of these and so I send out a "feeler" e-mail to see if they might be interested in participating.

Of the 20 who replied, 15 have agreed to answer 10 questions about how they use maths in their sport. Only 5 declined the offer. 37 didn't reply at all. I'm sure they are all busy people so I was really impressed with my strike rate - over 25%.

For the 15 who have agreed to answer questions, I needed to work out a set of 10 questions that would be:

a) interesting

b) reveal some insight into maths in sport

c) have some sort of commonality so that I could attempt to draw some common threads from each "conversation".

So here's what I came up with:

The 10 Questions:

Question 1Describe what maths lessons were like for you at school. (Please be honest – not all of us loved maths at school)

This was a general question that I gave to everyone to see how they felt about maths at school. 

Question 2 - When you left school, did you expect to be using any of the maths that you were taught ever again?

This is something I am keen to learn about - does what we do at school actually prepare us for anything in the real world? And specifically in sport, do we really need maths?

Question 3 - How good do you need to be at mental arithmetic to do calculations in your head as you race/shoot/play/compete etc?

This one was modified slightly for each sport but the focus was on the need to do quick mental calculations whilst competing at an elite level. Would this ability be an advantage?

Question 4How aware are you of angles in your technique – angle of approach into a corner, angles in the course, angle of arms, angle of body etc?

This one was modified also for each sport but the focus was on angles and how an awareness of them improved performance.

Question 5When you are racing, how much is “mathematical thinking and calculating” and how much is “go as fast as you can”?

Again, modified to be sport-specific but looking at how much is based on thinking and how much is on feel.

Question 6Is estimation good enough or do you rely on accurate measurement of distances and times?

We do a lot of work in class with estimation. Why? Does a professional sportsperson estimate or measure accurately? How does this change between sports?

Question 7Do you keep an eye on the clock as you go around a course in training and in races?

Keeping an eye on time measurement - is this important to success in sport? 

Question 8Have your coaches ever used mathematics and physics to explain your style and movement?

Sports science is a huge industry. How do these scientists communicate with their athletes? What do they say? What maths do they use?

Question 9Do you look at statistics much to analyse your training and races?

Data analysis - another growth industry in the world of sport. How do athletes use this to improve their performance?

Question 10Do you have any other insights to offer into how you use mathematics in racing?

Just on the off-chance that I had over-lloed something really obvious, I provided this last question to see if there are other ways that maths comes into sport.

So, there you have the questions I have asked. Over the month of January I will be posting responses that I have received. Of the 15 who accepted questions, I have only got 6  completed replies so far, but we have had Christmas etc in the interim so I am sure the other answers will be sent soon. I will do some follow-up on those that haven't come back to me yet.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the answers that I will start posting soon.

Happy New Year!

Fireworks over Canberra last night

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