Mathematicians are always telling us that maths describes everything, and sport is no exception. Read on to find out about the maths used in sports. There’s heaps of options to combine sporting aspirations with maths study, and there’s maths used in sports jobs too!
Windbreakers on wheels
Ever wondered why cyclists tend to bunch up during a race? It’s not just because they’re vying for first place, but because they know all about the maths used in sports and understand that this kind of formation sees riders sitting behind the leader, expending up to 40% less energy. The cyclist in front does the most work, breaking the headwind and creating a low-pressure area behind their bike. So, if you’re tagging along after the front rider, you’re actually in a prime position to take out a win because you won’t be using up all your energy reserves. Sneaky!
For the top players in ball sports like tennis and volleyball, you’ll find a little maths behind every winning serve. There’s something called the ‘Magnus Effect’ which changes how a ball travels depending on how you spin it. The air pressure on the two opposite sides of the ball will change subject to the air moving around the ball. The side moving congruently with the wind will speed up, and the side spinning against it will slow down. The speedier side of the ball creates a low-pressure area and ‘sucks’ the ball in this direction. The advantage is it’s harder to predict where the ball will end up when it’s not behaving by the usual forces of gravity. And that means match point.
Drag racing in the pool
At the Beijing 2008 Olympics, world champs like Michael Phelps sported high-tech, full-body swimsuits that were calculated to reduce drag in the water by 8%. With tiny pockets of gas built into the fabric, swimmers were more buoyant so benefited from 780 times less drag than the water! The following year, it’s estimated 20 new world records were set at the 2009 Rome World Swimming Championships thanks to the suits… which are now banned from all professional swimming races due to their unfair advantage.
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Maths + Sports jobs
Data scientist: $61K–$135K
Exercise physiologist: $45K–AU$72K
Sports physiotherapist: $52K–$103K*
*Source: Salaries according to payscale.com
Author: Eliza Brockwell
Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.