STEMfooty: Connecting with the science of sport

When you kick a football, what angle makes it travel the furthest?

To find the answer, you could keep kicking the ball as far as you can over and over again. Or, you could experiment with a giant slingshot, launching tennis balls past an oversized protractor, and taking measurements with a laser range finder.

This is one of the ways that the University of South Australia is teaching science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) using footy instead of a classroom. The uni has teamed up with the Data to Decision Cooperative Research Centre (D2D CRC) and the Adelaide Crows Football Club to run a pilot of a program called STEMfooty.

STEMfooty is based on the US program Science of Sport, developed by Professor Ricardo Valerdi, which has delivered sport-linked STEM training to more than 100,000 students and 1000 teachers by partnering with Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association teams.



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Kicking goals in STEM careers

Australia loves its sport and STEMfooty hopes to boost the numbers of students that choose careers in science, technology, engineering and math by linking a love of AFL football with an understanding of the underlying STEM concepts.

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The program is also promoting inclusion in STEM by targeting girls, Indigenous students, and students from low socioeconomic areas – groups that are currently underrepresented in STEM careers. To do this, STEMfooty will link with the Crows’ large AFL Women’s platform, and its strong existing programs with Indigenous students in South Australia.

The STEMfooty pilot ran three full-day sessions, with 70 students participating. “Students were very engaged with the scientific content,” says Niall Fay, the program coordinator and D2D CRC’s Chief Operating Officer. “They really wanted to know more about the science that underpinned the skills they already had, and how they could use science to get better at what they do.”

STEMfooty will continue to run one-day and half-day programs, but is also engaging educational experts to create a STEMfooty curriculum that will be provided to schools.



Football is science

The students involved in the pilot were surprised about the connections between STEM and sports, says Fay. “They say, ‘I didn’t understand that making a football bend a certain way is actually science.’”

Real-world connections with STEM are important, adds Simon Leonard, UniSA’s Associate Professor of STEM Education. “Too often kids label themselves saying ‘I’m not a maths person’ or ‘I’m not a science person’,. Programs like this help kids to identify with STEM and see it as a significant part of their lives.”

There are plenty of sports-related careers in STEM, from careers that focus on athletes, like physical therapists, sports psychologists, or nutritionists, to jobs that focus on the environment and equipment that surrounds athletes, like materials scientists, sports engineers, or sports statisticians.

Carmen Spears

Author: Carmen Spears

Carmen is a freelance writer who won the opportunity to intern with Refraction Media in October of 2018. She is constantly curious and enjoys sharing intriguing stories about STEM.


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