The Physics of Sports (SOL 2.1, 3.1, 4.2 & 6.1)

Teacher Name: Gemma Griffin
Grade Level: 2-6
Subject: Science
Time Frame: 1 hour 45 minutes
Concept: Physics
Topic: Sports and Physics


Sports have been a source of education and entertainment for thousands of years. They teach values like teamwork, and the opportunity to promote healthy competition. Sports also lend themselves to the teaching of science; the study of our world and how it works. Through the study of sports, students can be exposed to many physical science concepts, that are often very difficult to teach and understand with only textbook material.


The student will recognize that important physics concepts can be found in their daily activities, including sports!
The student will have the opportunity to improve his or her teamwork skills.

Content: Physics concepts to be explored:

Basketball: Bouncing Balls Experiment:

Newton’s 2nd law: ” Amount of force depends on the mass and acceleration.

Newton’s 3rd law: “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Elastic and Inelastic

Football: The Perfect Pass Experiment:

Newton’s 1st law: “objects at rest remain at rest, objects in motion remain in motion, unless acted on by an outside force”


Soccer: The Perfect Kick (Just for Kicks) Experiment:


Baseball: Swinging Away Experiment:

Newton’s 1st law of motion.

SOL: Science:

2.1 – The student will plan and conduct investigations in which simple physical models are constructed.
3.1 – The student will plan and conduct investigations in which observations are made.
4.2 – The student will investigate and understand energy:
– potential and kinetic energy
– efficiency, friction, and inertia
6.1 The student will plan and conduct investigations in which
– scale models are used



The student will be able to investigate the physical science present in sports, evidenced by successful completion of experiments, written observation records, and oral discussion.


The student will be able to be aware that physical science is present in their current lives, by investigating the physics in sports, evidenced by successful completion of experiments, written observation records, and oral discussion.


The student will be able to apply important physical science concepts, learned in classroom experiments, evidenced by journal write and their participation in playing the actual sport and using the concepts to improve their game skills.


Directions for experiments Content explanations for experiments
Soccer ball and cones for goals
Basketball and court
Baseball and bat, bases (whiffle ball set recommended for safety reasons)
tennis ball, crumpled sheet of paper, blown up balloon

Advanced Organizer: (30 minutes)

Physics Presentation: Dr. Sheldon’s Show

Procedures & Activities: (60 minutes)

1. After physics introduction show, divide into two groups (2nd/3rd and 4th/5th)
2. Ask students to orally share a most memorable experience with sports that they have. Allow time for those who want to share.
3. Introduce the idea of science (physics) in the sports that we play, and how our knowledge about the physics of these sports can greatly improve our game.
4. Rotate through the four sports (being outside or in a gym will be necessary for this). At each sport, have students brainstorm what they need to know to play the sport successfully.

Sport #1 Basketball: Bouncing Balls Experiment:

Basketball relies on bouncing balls more than most sports. So why do balls bounce? Basketballs and oranges are both round, but you’d have a hard time dribbling an orange up the court! What’s so special about balls?

Get a basketball and a ruler. Also needed: balled up piece of paper, blown up balloon, and tennis ball. These items will be your test objects. Have students predict and order which they think will bounce highest to hardly bounced at all.

Pick a spot on the floor to test your objects on.

Stand your ruler on the test surface and bounce each test object from the same height (12 inches). Measure how high each item bounces. Some items may not bounce.

Paper ______________ inches # _____

Balloon ______________ inches # _____

Tennis Ball ____________ inches # _____

Mini-basketball _________ inches # _____

Look at your results. Put the test items in order by how high they bounced and squeeze each one. What happens? Do the bouncy items have anything in common?

Set a few ground rules:

Good sportsmanship.

No wandering off when outside.

Safety: (Example: no tackling in football, shoving in basketball or soccer)

Allow students to play basketball for about 5 minutes and apply what they’ve learned about the physics of the sport.

Sport #2 Football: The Perfect Pass Experiment:

You’ve probably seen great passes – the kind that just rifle through the air right into the hands of a waiting receiver. But you’ve also probably seen some wobble and fall short, maybe into the hands of the other team! What’s the difference? What makes a good pass?

1. Get a coin. Find a flat surface on the floor or desk to test it on.
2. Try to balance the coin on its edge without spinning it.
3. Now spin the coin softly. Try it a few times and time yourself how long you can get it to spin.
4. Spin the coin harder and faster this time.

Is there a relationship between how fast they spin and how long they stay up?

Have students identify that a football will stay up in the air longer and travel a farther distance when spinning, like a coin, rather than tumbling through the air, end over end.

Allow students 5 minutes to practice their “perfect pass”.

Sport #3 Soccer: The Perfect Kick (Just for Kicks) Experiment:

There is, of course, no one perfect kick. But soccer players always look for the best possible kick to use in any given situation.Momentum has a lot to do with the power of your kick. Momentum is the built up energy, measured by the amount of stuff in motion times how fast it is moving.

Demonstrate and have students demonstrate momentum between their hand and a balled up piece of paper.

A. Hold up on hand with fingers pointing straight up, elbow bent and reasonably close to the body this is your “waiting hand”. Hold the paper ball in the other hand a little above your “waiting hand” and to one side. Your two arms will make a “T” shape.

B. Let the ball go and smack it with the back of your waiting hand, without any kind of windup. (Don’t move your hand away from the ball before hitting it). Estimate how far the ball went. Very far? A little far? Not far at all?

C. Now repeat this same experiment, but this time, hold your waiting hand parallel to the ground, so your waiting hand will have quite a distance to travel to hit the paper ball. Drop the paper ball and pivot your waiting hand up to smack the ball.

How far did the ball go this time compared to the previous time?

Allow students to apply their knowledge know about momentum during a brief game of kickball or soccer.

Center #4 Baseball: Swinging Away Experiment:

Batters use strategies to improve their chances of getting a good hit. Batters will also hit the ball harder or softer depending on their needs. But why do these different swings affect the ball in such different ways?

Ask students to think about where they’d need to make contact with the bat to the ball to make the ball go downwards (a bunt), upwards (for a homerun), or to sail pretty much straight across the field? (See content page for further explanation)

Allow students to practice different swings for about 5 minutes.

Closure: (5-10min)

Have students journal write for about 5-10 minutes. Instruct students to choose one sport to write about, including the physics they learned about it, and how the physics can be used to improve their playing abilities of that sport.


Oral discussion (Comprehension)
Journal write (Transfer of Knowledge)
Participation in games (Application)