Physics of Sports

An Undergraduate Course at Johns Hopkins University

By Dr. Muhammad Ali Yousuf

Page updated on: May 12th, 2019

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Course Description:

While watching sports scenes you must have felt that your knowledge of physics is just not enough to understand all aspects of it. In this course you will learn which additional forces are at play in different sports and why a curve ball curves? or why a ping pong ball dunks? You will also understand the use of energy and power in basketball, cycling, and other sports. Science has been illuminating sports for decades and will play even more significant role in high-speed competitive sports of the future. This course will offer you a whole new way of viewing and understanding the sports you love. Group projects will help in exploring these topics further and at deeper level.

Course Goals:

This is a short course which starts with the assumption that you know at least some basic mechanics. A few review sheets will be available and key concepts will be reviewed in the class too. By the end of the course, you will:

  1. Develop a deeper understanding of basic physics concepts via their applications to sports.
  2. Learn image, video and sound analysis (using software) to help you extract useful data from sporting events
  3. Develop an appreciation for the amount of science and engineering that goes into a sporting event, from the training of players to the design of equipment and playing fields.

History of the Physics of Sports

The real history of the subject is difficult to trace and the reader is referred to other texts. Here we would point out the 'modern history' of the subject. In early 1850s the subject of rotating artillery shells was explored by the German professor Heinrich Magnus. In this project he investigated sideways deflection of artillery shells which were rotating. In 1877 Lord Rayleigh wrote a paper on the irregular flight of a tennis-ball. It can be found here.

You may also go back to my main page,


Starting with an introduction to basic concepts in physics learn why a curve ball curves, why a ping pong ball dunks, how the speed and temperature of bobsled critically define its trajectory and dynamics, etc. The course will try to build general understanding of physics needed to explain various sports in a greater depth and to appreciate the amount of science and engineering that goes into designing sporting equipment.

Video discussing the physics of sports:

The following video will prepare you before coming to the class.

Alan Nathan: Physics and Baseball: An Intersection of Passions,

Daily Lecture Plan


Topics (Chapter numbers refer to the recommended text)

Activities / Videos / Assignments

Review material (if you have recently taken any of the pre-requisites for this course, you don't need this material)
  • Representing Motion
  • Motion in 1D
  • Motion in 2D
  • Forces & Newton's Laws of Motion
  • Physics Review 1 - Representing Motion
  • Physics Review 2 - Motion in 1D
  • Physics Review 3 - Motion in 2D
  • Physics Review 4 - Forces & Newton's Laws of Motion
  • Day 1 - Monday

  • Introduction to Physics of Sports and a survey of kinematics (Selections from Chapter 1 and Chapter 2)
  • Measurement tools available, photo and video analysis.
  • PowerPoint Presentations:
  • Day 1 - Class Work 1,
  • Day 1 - Introduction (requires password), and
  • Day 1 - Time lapse photo collection
  • YouTube Video Links:
  • Does height matter in sports?
  • Phelps in Beijing
  • Bolt in Berlin
  • Assignment:
  • Assignment 1,
  • Day 2 - Friday

  • Role of various Forces in Sports (Chapter 3)
  • Group Projects – Selection and confirmation
  • PowerPoint Presentation:
  • Day 2 - Role of Various Forces in Sports (requires password), and
  • Website(s):
  • Principles of Force in Sports
  • The Physics Of Curling
  • YouTube Video Links:
  • Science Friction - All About the Physics of Curling
  • Dwight Howard superman dunk
  • Physics of Skeleton
  • Day 3 - Monday

  • More on Forces in Sports (Chapter 3)
  • Quick review of Projectile Motion (Selections from Chapter 4)
  • Additional Forces in Sports (Selections from Chapter 5)
  • PowerPoint Presentation:
  • Day 3 - More on Forces in Sports (requires password), and
  • Excel file to be used in the class
  • Websites:
  • The Physics Of Volleyball
  • The Physics Of Soccer and Magnus Force
  • YouTube Video Links:
  • An athlete uses physics to shatter world records
  • Fosbury - Mexico 1968 high jump
  • Blanka Vlasic - High Jumps - Fosbury Flop
  • Bob Beamon Makes History | Mexico City 1968
  • The Physics Behind a Curveball - The Magnus Effect
  • How to curve a ball backwards using science
  • Magnus effect in Ping Pong
  • Assignment:
  • Assignment 2,
  • Day 4 - Friday

  • Physics of Basketball (Chapter 7)
  • Physics of Ping-pong
  • Group Projects – Mid-session update due from students
  • PowerPoint Presentation:
  • Day 4 - More on Forces in Sports and Energy (requires password)
  • Websites:
  • The Physics of Basketball
  • YouTube Video Links:
  • Scot Shot Basketball
  • Day 5 - Monday

  • Engineering of Sporting equipment (Selection from Chapter 8)
  • PowerPoint Presentation
  • Day 5 - Physics and Engineering of Sporting Equipment (requires password)
  • YouTube Video Links:
  • Physics of Archery
  • An introduction to sports engineering
  • While there, also check the YouTube Channel of Centre for Sports Engineering Research
  • Day 6 - Friday

  • The Physics of Cycling (Chapter 9)
  • Group Projects – Final submission
  • PowerPoint Presentation:
  • Day 6 - Physics of Cycling (requires password)
  • YouTube Video Links:
  • The physics of cycling
  • The Physics of Cycling
  • Team GB Set New Team Pursuit World Record - London 2012 Olympics
  • Websites:
  • The Science of Cycling

     Supplementary Chapters from the Recommended Text

    1. Lines of Action on the Line of Scrimmage: The Torque Wars
    2. A Barry Bonds Home Run
    3. The Pole Vault
    4. Is It Better to Run through First Base or to Dive?

    Reference Books (in random order)

    Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports
    Author: John Eric Goff
    Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
    Year: 2010
    ISBN: 978081893223

    An Introduction to the Physics of Sports
    Author: Vassilios McInnes Spathopoulos
    Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
    Year: 2013
    ISBN: 978-1483930077

    Gliding for Gold: The Physics of Winter Sports
    Author: Mark Denny
    Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
    Year: 2011
    ISBN: 978-1421402154

    Popular Mechanics - Why A Curveball Curves: The Incredible Science of Sports
    Author: Frank Vizard
    Publisher: Hearst Books
    Year: 2014
    ISBN: 978-1618371225

    Physics with Video Analysis 
    Authors: Priscilla Laws and others
    Publisher: Vernier, Inc.
    ISBN: 978-1-929075-11-9

    The Dynamics of Sports: Why Thats the Way the Ball Bounces
    Author: David Griffing
    Publisher: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company; 4 edition
    Year: 2000
    ISBN:  978-0787271299

    Mathletics: A Scientist Explains 100 Amazing Things about the World of Sports
    (For reading and discussion sessions in the evening)
    Author: John D. Barrow
    Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition
    Year: 2012
    ISBN-13: 978-0393063417

    Projectile Dynamics in Sports: Principles and Applications,
    Author: Colin White
    Publisher: Routledge, London
    Year: 2010
    ISBN-13: 978-0415473316

    Contributions from Readers of this site

    We are thankful to many of our readers for taking interest in this website and suggesting even more interesting links and ideas. Here are just a few valuable contributions. We'll be adding more soon. Each subsection contains the name of the person/orgaization making the contribution.

    Contributed by Ted Lindblom of Barnet Dulaney Perkins Eye Center

    "Here is a link to "How Baseball Players See a Fastball" published by Barnet Dulaney Perkins Eye Center which details the science behind a baseball player being able to hit a fastball pitch. It highlights the amount of time it takes a fastball to travel to home plate vs. the amount of time it takes to blink and a player's ability to predict movement, demonstrating how truly amazing the hitting process is:

    Here are some more links which may help students:

  • Contributed by Clayton Hudson, Communications manager for

    "I was searching for educational science websites and came across your page. We have created a free interactive guide to Kinetic and Potential Energy Our guide is easy to follow and contains numerous graphics that assist with the comprehension of the material."

    Contributed by Prof. Don R. Mueller on his work (Physics professor and former pro baseball pitcher)

    "Concerning my work in tennis, which includes new ways to hit (serves and ground-strokes) and new racket innovations was covered briefly in the NY Times (2018) humorously in cartoon form:

    I wrote about my various racket designs (and functions) in this LinkedIn article: various racket designs (and functions)

    News item from my Physics of Tennis event at the Wayne Racquet Club (NJ)

    Finally, I show off a little ambidexterity in this next article along with my Two-racket Tennis friend from LaLa-land who was happy to have me include his photo in The Buffalo News. I do enjoy a rousing game of what I call Two-racket Tennis"

    Some other Physics of Sports Courses and their Websites

    1. The Physics of Sports by Vassilios McInnes Spathopoulos,
    2. Physics of Sports by Michael Lisa,
    3. Sports Physics at MIT,
    4. Alan Nathan's website on the Physics of Baseball at the University of Illinois
    5. Physics of Sports at SUNY Stony Brook,
    6. Physics of Baseball & Softball Bats, at Penn State.

    Following links, taken from the website "Real World Physics Problems" are extremely useful:

    1. The Physics Of Archery
    2. The Physics Of Hitting A Baseball
    3. The Physics Of Basketball
    4. The Physics Of Billiards
    5. The Physics Of Bowling
    6. The Physics Of Bungee Jumping
    7. The Physics Of Cheerleading
    8. The Physics Of Curling
    9. The Physics Of Figure Skating
    10. The Physics Of Golf
    11. The Physics Of A Golf Swing
    12. The Physics Of Gymnastics
    13. The Physics Of Hockey
    14. The Physics Of Ice Skating
    15. The Physics Of Jumping
    16. The Physics Of Kite Flying
    17. The Physics Of Luge
    18. The Physics Of Pole Vaulting
    19. The Physics Of Running
    20. The Physics Of Sailing
    21. The Physics Of Skateboarding
    22. The Physics Of Skiing
    23. The Physics Of Skydiving
    24. The Physics Of Snowboarding
    25. The Physics Of Soccer
    26. The Physics Of Swimming
    27. The Physics Of Tennis
    28. The Physics Of Volleyball


    These short video clips are for actual classroom presentation and can be used for activities and group discussions about a particular sport. They may also become the basis for a research project. Keep in mind that if you need to really study a topic, you will need to search for "high speed video of ..." to find good videos which you can analyze with a video analysis software.

    1. Archery,
    2. Baseball,,
    3. Bowling,
    4. Cricket,
    5. Cycling and Bicycles,
    6. Billiards,,
    7. Boomerangs,
    8. Frisbees,
    9. Gymnastics,
    10. Sailing,,
    11. Skipping Stones,
    12. Soccer,
    13. Tennis and Racket Sports,
    14. Water Sports,
    16. Football physics: The "impossible" free kick - Erez Garty 

    General Websites

    1. On the size of sports fields,;jsessionid=E3BFCC68B80076394A032AF94938B549.c4
    2. Balance, angular momentum and sport,
    3. Material advantage,
    4. The fastest man on no legs, Physics World, Vol. 25, No. 7, July 2012
    5. Getting the Swing of Surface Gravity,
    6. How did friction get so smart?
    7. Measuring the Effects of Lift and Drag on Projectile Motion,
    8. The Bounce of Playgrounds and Gym Floors,
    9. Temperature Effects on Ball Bounceability,
    10. Baseball:
    11. Basketball:
    12. Ballooning:
    13. Cycling:
    14. ESPN Sport Science videos:
    15. Cycling:
    16. Simple activity ideas:

    Physics of Computer Games

    1. Getting on the Ball: How the FIFA 14 Soccer Video Game Finally Got Its Physics Right?,
    2. How physics is driving the computer games industry,
    3. Evolution of Physics in Video Games,

    Online games

    1. Online physics games,
    2. Physics of Sports Simulation Collection,


    1. See how a baseball curves using styro balls.
    2. More on how to curve a baseball
    3. Minimizing Handle Forces
    4. Hockey Check Force Calculator
    5. Find many more experiments here:


    Some publications of great value to this course:

    1. A physics heptathlon: simple models of seven sporting events, by Vassilios McInnes Spathopoulos
    2. From Physics world: Dancing with Physics
    3. From Physics world: Balance, angular momentum and sport.
    4. From Physics world: Material Advantage?
    5. From The Physics Teacher: How Did Friction Get So "Smart"?
    6. From The Physics Teacher: A Cool Sport Full of Physics
    7. From Scientific American: The Physics of Somersaulting and Twisting
    8. From Physics Today: The Physics of Baseball

    Specialized Sports Papers

    1. Cycling Science,
    2. A Virtual Exploration of the Bicycle
    3. How does buoyancy influence front-crawl performance?
    4. Ice Hockey - A Cool Sport Full of Physics,
    5. Physics of Baseball,
    6. Physics of Somersaulting and Twisting,
    7. Skiing and Angular Momentum - A Proposed Experiment,
    8. Snowboard jumping, Newton's second law and the force on landing,
    9. The effect of spin on the flight of a baseball,
    10. The physics of an exercise bike,
    11. The physics of golf,
    12. The physics of winning,
    13. The racing car turn,
    14. The physics of the world's fastest man,
    15. The physics of sailing,
    There is an extensive amount of literature out there and the above list is just a starting point.

    The objective of this section is to provide ideas on doing simple experiments using easily available hardware and software:






    The following PhET and other simulations each has some relevant physics concept explained:

    The following SimScale simulations have some relevant physics concept explained:

    Athletics at Johns Hopkins

    Before we move to Olympics, I must mention our own athletics website with a lot of intereseting information and videos.

    Winter Olympics

    Pyeong Chang, Korea, will host the XXIII Olympic Winter Games,

    The timing of this course is such that it will end just before them as the 2018 Winter Olympics will begin on: Friday, February 9, and end on: Sunday, February 25. Hence you are encouraged to explore these sports during this course and then use your newly gained knowledge to understand different sports during Olympics.

    You can also go back in time and see what happened in Sochi Winter Olympics 2014. There are 15 sports played during Winter Olympics. These can be snow-based, or ice-based. See What’s The Difference Between Ice And Snow?

    Following sports are represented in Winter Olympics:


    1. Alpine Skiing
    2. Biathlon
    3. Cross Country Skiing
    4. Freestyle Skiing
    5. Nordic Combined
    6. Ski Jumping
    7. Snowboard


    1. Bobsleigh
    2. Curling
    3. Figure Skating
    4. Ice Hockey
    5. Luge
    6. Short Track Speed Skating
    7. Skeleton
    8. Speed Skating

    Summer Olympics

    The next Summer Olympics will be held in Tokyo in 2020.

    You can also go back in time and see what happened in Rio Summer Olympics 2016.

    Following sports are represented in Summer Olympics:

    1. Archery
    2. Athletics
    3. Badminton
    4. Basketball
    5. Beach Volleyball
    6. Boxing
    7. Canoe Slalom
    8. Canoe Sprint
    9. Cycling Bmx
    10. Cycling Mountain Bike
    11. Cycling Road
    12. Cycling Track
    13. Diving
    14. Equestrian/Dressage
    15. Equestrian/Eventing
    16. Equestrian/Jumping
    17. Fencing
    18. Football
    19. Golf
    20. Gymnastics Artistic
    21. Gymnastics Rhythmic
    22. Handball
    23. Hockey
    24. Judo
    25. Modern Pentathlon
    26. Rowing
    27. Rugby
    28. Sailing
    29. Shooting
    30. Swimming
    31. Synchronized Swimming
    32. Table Tennis
    33. Taekwondo
    34. Tennis
    35. Trampoline
    36. Triathlon
    37. Volleyball
    38. Water Polo
    39. Weightlifting
    40. Wrestling Freestyle
    41. Wrestling Greco-Roman


    Of particular interest to me are Paralympics,

    If you have come to this page (or this part of the page) thinking that this is the CTY's (Center for Talented Youth) course of the same name, please understand that it is not.

    However, I am the course mentor for that course too and hire instructioanl staff to teach that course. If you have worked with CTY in the past, or will be a TA/INST for this course in near future, you might already know me. The information here can be of value to you too as all these resources can be used there. You just have to understand that the audience is different and lectures here are not as interactive as they should be for young CTY students.

    More information about CTY course can be found at the home Page for Physics of Sports offered by CTY

    If you are looking for summer TA positions for this course at CTY, you may apply online and let me know via email address given below. The course is offered at UC Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, California) and Roger Williams University (Bristol, Rhode Island) sites and CTY provides room and board on site. Travel to the site is NOT included.


    Some Lesson Plan and Student Worksheets to help you at CTY


    External (Full Lesson Plans and Student Worksheets)

    My Public Presentations on Physics of Sports


    Contact mali @ jhu dot edu for more information