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The Physics of SoccerUsing Math and Science to Improve Your Game
By DEJI BADIRU
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Deji Badiru
All right reserved.
Chapter OneImportance of STEM in Sports
"My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there." -Charles F. Kettering
Physics explains the past, the present, and the future. Physics is the science of matter and energy, and the interactions between the two (Halliday et al. 2007). The physics of soccer is addressed as a topic in this book, both literally and figuratively. The literal part relates to the science and computational aspects of soccer. The figurative part presents physics informally as the process of accomplishing soccer-related actions. The approach of this book helps players to develop more as cerebral participants rather than just brawny athletes.
Whether it is called soccer, football, or the world's game, the game of soccer is fun and has been called the most popular sport in the world. The game of soccer is about motion. Physics is about the laws of motion, and it can be applied to ball games (Daish 1972, Adair 2002, Gay 2004). Putting soccer and physics together is one way to appreciate the high-speed aspects of the sport. One purpose of this book is to introduce some basic mathematics and science concepts in an interesting, useful, and engaging way.
Soccer builds character. The game extends and builds positive attributes in players. From physical and mental alertness, teamwork, sportsmanship, selflessness, and leadership to good work ethics, the game of soccer helps players to develop as a total person as they prepare for the challenges of the future.
Orientation of Soccer Toward STEM
STEM is an acronym for "science, technology, engineering, and mathematics." It is a motivational philosophy that uses technical math and science subject areas to develop a better understanding of our world, environment, operational processes, and how things work. STEM prepares youth for the challenges they will face in college, professional careers, and the workplace. National forecasts have projected up to a 30 percent increase in science and technical occupations in the coming decades. In order to be well-rounded and be prepared for the challenges of the future at home or at work, we must embrace STEM enthusiastically. Using sports as a vehicle for building enthusiasm in STEM is a creative and unique way to get the attention of youths. Sport is one thing that most youths engage in enthusiastically, and we can leverage it into building an interest in STEM. Several states are stemming up (pun intended) to the challenge of STEM by creating incubator programs to give youths an early start in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. At the professional level, STEM-oriented publications are emerging in business, education, industry, and management (Badiru 2009). On the education side, of noteworthy mention is the aggressive effort of STEM Education Coalition, whose objectives are echoed in the shaded display below:
STEM Education Coalition The STEM Education Coalition works aggressively to raise awareness in Congress, the administration, and other organizations about the critical role that STEM education plays in enabling the United States to remain the economic and technological leader of the global marketplace of the twenty-first century. The Coalition advocates for strengthening of STEM-related programs for educators and students and increased federal investments in STEM education. We also support robust federal investments in basic scientific research to inspire current and future generations of young people to pursue careers in STEM fields. Members of the STEM Coalition believe that our nation must improve the way our students learn science, mathematics, technology, and engineering and that the business, education, and STEM communities must work together to achieve this goal. Coalition Objectives 1. Strengthen effective STEM education programs at all levels-K-12, undergraduate, graduate, continuing ed, vocational, informal-at the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and other federal agencies with STEM-related programs. 2. Encourage national elected officials and key opinion leaders to recognize and bring attention to the critical role that STEM education plays in U.S. competitiveness and our future economic prosperity. 3. Support new and innovative initiatives that will help improve the content knowledge, skills, and professional development of the K-12 STEM teacher workforce and informal educators and improve the resources available in STEM classrooms and other learning environments. 4. Support new and innovative initiatives to recruit and retain highly skilled STEM teachers. 5. Support new and innovative initiatives to encourage more of our best and brightest students, especially those from underrepresented or disadvantaged groups, to study in STEM fields. 6. Support increased federal investment in educational research to determine effective STEM teaching and learning methods. 7. Encourage better coordination of efforts among federal agencies that provide STEM education programs. 8. Support new and innovative initiatives that encourage partnerships between state and local educators, colleges, universities, museums, science centers, and the business, science, and technology communities that will improve STEM education.
Notable state-level STEM models can be found in Ohio, Michigan, and Minnesota. The Dayton Regional STEM School in Beavercreek, Ohio, is one of several specialized STEM schools established around the state of Ohio. It represents a good educational model for introducing youths to STEM education as early as possible. Started in fall 2009, the intensive science-oriented high school enrolls almost one hundred ninth-graders from school districts in the region. The STEM school will add grades each year until it reaches an enrollment of six hundred students in grades six through twelve. The idea of a STEM school is to steer young talents toward high-tech careers, which will be in demand in the future. The governor of Ohio conveys this fact from an executive viewpoint in this 2009 statement:
Our investment in STEM education is one of the most essential investments we can make, not only for our students, but for the future of the state of Ohio. -Ted Strickland, governor of Ohio
The future workforce will consist of more knowledge workers than production floor workers. Those who will thrive in the future work environment are those with STEM-oriented education and aptitude. We are already seeing the emergence of noncontact service interactions. Think of online airline check-in, virtual boarding passes, PayPal, and a myriad of other examples. Goods and services can now easily be ordered and delivered via the Internet. Nintendo's Wii demonstrates that you can have physical activities and competitive game experience without physical contact and brutality. Wii was developed using higher-order STEM tools and techniques. The game of soccer, inasmuch as it is still played physically on the field, should take advantage of the intellectual tools, knowledge, and techniques of STEM. This book plays a role in that goal.
Although STEM philosophy focuses on technical subject areas, it should be understood that those technical areas function best only when the humanities are integrated into them. It is the view of this author that STEM works best when we also appreciate the social science areas that help us to build interpersonal skills needed for team activities, such as playing soccer.
Growth of Soccer in the United States
Even though soccer is still in a lull in the United States, the country should not despair. Soccer is growing fast in the United States both as a participative sport and as a family spectator sport. U.S. families now regularly huddle around the TV to watch international soccer games. On July 14, 2009, President Obama hosted the Columbus (Ohio) Crew professional soccer team as a congratulatory gesture for the team's 2008 Major League Soccer (MLS) championship. The team (seen in Figure 1.1a) presented the president with a soccer ball. Excitedly, on his way back to the Oval Office, Obama tossed the ball in the air and headed it deftly, thereby demonstrating his soccer physics skills and proving that soccer presides in the executive branch. This delighted the press corps that gathered to cover the team visit. The Dayton Daily News/Associated Press clipping below tells the story aptly. This example proves that soccer is, indeed, on the rise in the United States.
The Physical Versus the Intellectual
"Sure, my body can't do what it did when I was twenty, but I've learned so much over the years about being a smart competitor that I have a leg up when I race younger athletes." -Dara Grace Torres, American swimmer who won three silver medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics at the age of forty-one
There is always the physical aspect of soccer, but there also exists the intellectual aspect. This book is intended to train young soccer players not to rely solely on the physical aspects. One can gain tremendous competitive advantage by coupling intellectual know-how with the conventional physical skills of the game. The quote by Dara Grace Torres above confirms the author's own concept of the "novice swimmer syndrome," whereby the novice swimmer expends much more effort and energy than a skilled swimmer, who takes advantage of fluid dynamics effortlessly and swims more efficiently. Playing soccer efficiently implies getting better results with respect to the level of effort applied. Efficiency is formally defined as the ratio of output (result) to input (effort) according to the equation below:
e = output (result)/input (effort)
The better one understands soccer intellectually, the higher the efficiency of playing the game. In effect, the physics behind the game of soccer helps us to understand the game better and makes it possible to play the game more efficiently.
Soccer can be more fun if and when the player plays a mental game with himself and against the opponent to gain an advantage. In his playing days, the author didn't always run as fast as he could if he didn't need to. To him, a sun-cast silhouette of an opponent offered almost as much information as direct visual contact. For example, when playing forward with the sun to his back, he used the length of the shadows of the defenders chasing him to assess how close they were. He then used that information to change his speed and direction. This, of course, comes with split-second assessment and decision making, which follows years of intellectual dedication.
He also did just-in-time assessment of opponents' height, speed, and "volume" to determine how best to beat them in the air or on the ground. Volume is a comical term he used on the field to convey the overall size of an opponent. His philosophical utterances before, during, and after games not only conveyed intellectual underpinnings of the game, but also provided comic relief to teammates, thereby creating an overall more fun experience for everyone. As a coach, he would often shout instructions to his players by saying, "Impossible angle, impossible angle," which meant that whatever the player was trying to do was not possible within the realm of field geometry and physical possibility. Later, he would chastise a failed attempt with "You should have known that, judging the speed and direction of the ball, that movement could not have been executed successfully."
Linking Soccer to STEM
The Physics of Soccer: Using Math and Science to Improve Your Game is unique and targeted because it proactively links the sport of soccer to STEM. Physics, in particular, is the vehicle of choice to communicate that linkage. STEM facilitates an intellectual advantage not only in the workplace but also on the playing field. Through this book, the author has transferred his lifelong interest in soccer into an educational tool that is fun and easy to encourage youths to think and act scientifically, whether playing sports or engaging in another passion. The primary audience for the book is adolescents who are in a position to appreciate physics fully; however, the book can also serve as a head start for sub-adolescents to get an early introduction to the beauty of science as applied to sports.
The English soccer player David Beckham achieved worldwide acclaim for his skill at scoring goals from free kicks by "bending" or curving the soccer ball toward the goal. Such directional mastery of the ball's path, no doubt, has underlying principles of physics, manifested through routine execution after many years of practice. The time span of repeated practice can be shortened through more scientific embodiment of the shooting process.
The purpose of this book is not to provide an exhaustive introduction to physics, but rather to whet the appetite of the adolescent soccer player enough to seek more in-depth pursuit of the interesting subject matter of STEM in general, and physics in particular. STEM is a pathway for advancement for the present and for the future. This chapter presents a brief introduction to each of the elements of STEM before initiating the focus on physics and soccer in the next chapter. Although the primary audience for the book is adolescents, younger kids can also benefit from the early introduction to the principles of STEM. Studies have shown that children under the age of six are capable of learning multiple languages. As early as possible, the brain gets wired for multiple lanes of language reasoning. So, why not get them to start learning the language of STEM earlier on? In other words, children can learn to "speak" math and science very early in their lives. Coupling the learning experience with the fun of sports participation makes the overall process much more effective.
Science (from the Latin word scientia, meaning "knowledge") refers to any systematic knowledge or practice. In its more usual interpretation, science refers to a system of acquiring knowledge based on scientific method, as well as to the organized body of knowledge gained through such research. Science consists of two major categories:
Experimental science is based on experiments (Latin: ex-periri, "to try out") as a method of investigating causal relationships among variables and factors. Applied science is the application of scientific research to specific human needs. Experimental science and applied science are often interconnected. Science is the effort to discover and increase human understanding of how the real world works. Its focus is on reality that is independent of religious, political, cultural, or philosophical preferences. Using controlled methods, scientists collect data in the form of observations, record observable physical evidence of natural phenomena, and analyze the information to construct theoretical explanations of how things work.
Knowledge in science is gained through research. The methods of scientific research include the generation of conjectures (hypotheses) about how something works. Experiments are conducted to test these hypotheses under controlled conditions. The outcome of this empirical scientific process is the formulation of a theory that describes human understanding of physical processes and predicts what to expect in certain situations.
A broader and more modern definition of science includes the natural sciences, along with the social and behavioral sciences, as the main subdivisions. This involves the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena. The social and behavioral aspects of team-based soccer make it particularly amenable to the application of science in its broad sense.
Excerpted from The Physics of Soccer by DEJI BADIRU Copyright © 2010 by Deji Badiru. Excerpted by permission.
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