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Physics and Sports

Up your game with physics

physicsBette Schmit, Experience DeveloperJul 2, 2020

It’s July in Minnesota. Time for backyard barbecues, picnics in the park, and lakeside get-togethers. Add a friendly sports competition and some physics and the day is made.

Recently, while on vacation, I engaged in a fierce bocce ball competition with a friend. It was great fun. As I bounced a smooth, heavy bocce ball in each hand, my head filled with physics. For a long while, I marveled at how every throw required a physics-related consideration. How much or how little force did I need to put into a throw to land it near the pallino (the small target ball)? How fast and how far would my ball roll across the grass before friction slowed it down to a stop? Should I throw the ball long and low and factor in the roll, or toss my ball in a high arc that would end in a drop and stop? What spot on my friend’s ball should I strike to make it roll away at an angle, leaving my ball closer to the pallino?

Developing skill in any sport comes from practice and experience, but science can help, too. For instance, my strategy for getting the best result from each bocce ball throw might be improved by consulting Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion. Have a look at this fun music video for an introduction.

For a deeper dive, this article by science writer Chris Woodford explains the physics and other scientific influences in several kinds of sports.

Whether the laws of physics were top of mind or operating in the background, the bocce ball champ that day was the player who did a better job of planning and executing throws informed by how objects in motion behave. (Um . . . it was me. Yippee!) Hard work and practicing with the physics of the sport in mind will help you up your game and make you a stronger competitor. That’s true whether you love tossing the bags in a game of corn hole, going for the swish of a basketball as it drops through the net, or something between. Oh yeah, you must also really want to win.

Now, go outside and grab a ball, or a frisbee, or a skateboard, or any other piece of sporting equipment for a game you love. And remember, practice + physics makes perfect, or at least can bring you closer!