Play smarter, not harder: the maths used in sports

maths used in sports

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!

maths used in sports: cycling
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Spinning around

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.

maths used in sports
Image by Bessi from Pixabay

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.

maths used in sports
Image by David Mark from Pixabay


Maths + Sports degrees

Bachelor of Exercise and Sports Science, University of Newcastle 

Bachelor of Applied Science (Exercise and Sport Science), University of Sydney

Bachelor of Sports Science, Victoria University 

Maths + Sports jobs

Data scientist: $61K–$135K

Exercise physiologist: $45K–AU$72K

Sports physiotherapist: $52K–$103K*

*Source: Salaries according to

Eliza Brockwell

Author: Eliza Brockwell

Eliza is the Digital Producer for Careers with STEM. Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.


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