The Science of Basketball
March Madness, the NCAA basketball championship series, is in full swing. For the next several weeks, people across the country will cheer for their favorite team, obsessively wear their lucky shirt, and track their bracket predictions. But if don’t share the love of the game, perhaps you can appreciate the bounce of the ball and the arc of the perfect shot. Come discover the science behind basketball.
What could be simpler than bouncing a ball? Balls beg to be bounced. Dribbling—a fancy term for bouncing the ball—is a fundamental part of basketball. But, maybe bouncing isn’t as simple as it appears. Read the Exploratorium article, Why do Balls Bounce? Explore ball bouncing dynamics and how much energy dribbling takes by conducting two experiments. Read each of the tabs: begin with the summary and background to learn about the experiment, then find out what materials you will need before following the experiment’s procedures. Perhaps you wonder: where do basketballs bounce best? Read the Scientific American article to find answers to that question.
Dribbling may be fundamental but for most players, the fun is in shooting the ball. What player doesn’t love to hear the whoosh of the ball as it passes through the hoop? Is there a trick to sinking shots? Join Jay and Jonathan as they investigate whether hand positioning affects shooting. You can replicate their experiment and learn more about the science of sinking shots. View athlete’s shooting form in super slow motion. Finally, listen to physicist John Fontanella explain how spin affects the ball when you shoot and pass.
Basketball is a fast game. Ten players dash up and down the court, changing their positions frequently. How do players know where they’ll find someone to pass to? How do they track such frequently and fast-moving targets? How do they develop their reaction time and ‘court vision’? Sport Science explores whether heightened peripheral vision means better reaction time, and how a regular guy compares to a basketball player. Watch their investigation, and discover what they learned.
Of course, some of the most exciting moves in a basketball game are the ones when a player flies through the air, seemingly suspended—hang time—and then dunks the ball. Sport Science returns to the science lab to demystify the mystery of hang time. (Hint: It has something to do with gravity.) Of course, dunks and hang time also rely on jumps. How high can a basketball player jump and what forces are at work? Watch one more Sport Science video to see their procedure and to discover their answers.
You now know some of the science behind dribbling, shooting, and jumping. But knowing the science of the game is only half the fun. The implementation is just as important. Together—art and science—create amazing moves and plays to cheer for. It’s what separates professional athletes from weekend ballers. Watch science and art merge in the NCAA’s Top 10 Plays of the Week and the best dunks from the second round of March Madness. Then don whatever lucky t-shirt you want, turn on the television, and cheer for the science and art of March Madness.
As you read this week's local newspaper, focus on the sports section. Which sports do you know the least about? Read a selection of articles about that sport. What skills do key plays require and outstanding players demonstrate? Where is the science in this sport? Meet with a classmate who is also investigating this sport. Create a diagram that explains the science behind one aspect of the game.