Math Awareness Month — Math editor Vickie Kearn on why math is so important in sports

Most people like at least one sport. Many of us are addicted to ESPN. But how many people think of math when they watch sports? Whether you are filling in your March Madness brackets or want to have the highest percentage of goals on your soccer team, math will help you out. Perhaps you are on the track team. How do you adjust your pace to win the race, depending on your lane?

It might be that safety is a big issue for your sport. If you are a NASCAR fan, you might be interested to find that math plays a big part in the manufacture of tires as well as tire pressure. If the design of the car changes, the tires need to change as well. For me, I want to make sure my son’s lacrosse helmet is made of the strongest materials possible and that it fits properly. A new mouth guard is now available that is much safer and increases performance by 25%.

Mathematics is also involved in accurately assessing a team’s chance of winning a particular game, whether or not it is on a winning streak. Baseball managers and owners of teams use math to determine the value of a particular player. Coaches crunch numbers to determine whether they go for a touchdown on fourth and 3. If you have ever volunteered to schedule a tournament for your town’s Little League, you already know the value of math. Can you imagine scheduling the MLB season?

If you are a college football fan, you know that the championship game is not determined by a playoff system but by a combination of human polls and computer ranking methods. Now, you might not like this system, but you have to admit it would be impossible to assign the bowl games without math.

I often hear comments like “I hate math!” or “What is it good for anyway?” It is good for lots of things, and one of the most interesting is its applications in sports. If you are a “math-hater”, pick a sport you like and commit yourself to finding the math behind it during Math Awareness Month. Then, share your new really neat math fact with a friend.

Comments

  1. Can’t underestimate the value of mathematics. It’s central in everything in sport.

  2. Don’t forget about the mathematical chart that NFL coaches use to determine whether to kick the extra point or go for two. Statistics with a little human intuition thrown in.