Math at Work Olympic Edition: How Is Math Used in Sports?

Math At Work Olympic Edition Dee Dee Trotter Hero

Find Out as Students Meet Three Elite Sports Professionals. Plus, Download Free Math Olympic Games Activities!

In the sports world, calculations and mathematical thinking are everywhere. This episode of Math at Work, and the five activities below, help illustrate to students some of the key roles that math plays in athletics—and beyond. Much of sports-related math involves being measured, in categories including speed, distance, repetitions in the gym, and calories, to name a few.

This episode of Math at Work takes three student athletes to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to find out what it takes to become an Olympian. Filming was completed in January 2020, and the episode was intended to premiere in conjunction with the Summer Olympic Games originally scheduled for 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. However, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the decision by the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) to postpone the Games until 2021. The decision was a disappointment to the elite athletes who had been training to compete—as well as the millions of people around the world who had been looking forward to watching them—but it was a necessary step to ensure their safety and health.

Now with the Games held in 2021, we are reminded that the peace, friendship, hope, tolerance, and greatness symbolized by the Olympic torch are never out of date. So, if you're itching to bring some Olympic action into your learning, check out the episode and explore the math Olympic activities below.

Click the image below to play the full episode.

The Math at Work web series features industry leaders who work directly with students to demonstrate the power and importance of real-life math.

This episode of Math at Work is hosted by DeeDee Trotter, a three-time Olympian in Track and Field (2004, 2008, and 2012), and spotlights student athletes Tahlaya (Tay), Delaney, and Evan. They meet Olympic javelin thrower Kara Winger, Paralympic cycling hopeful Jason Macom, and USOPC dietician Sally Baumann, who demonstrate their individual areas of expertise and the math they use to do what they do best. Along the way, Tay, Delaney, and Evan discover how an Olympian practices, exercises, and eats to stay in top form.

Want to give your students an even greater sense of why math is so important and how it works in the sports world?

Try These Ready-to-Use Math Olympic Activities

Activity 1: Javelin Analysis

In this activity for Grades 6–8, students analyze videos of javelin throws and graph the relationship between angle and distance.

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Activity 2: Paralympic Hopeful

In this activity for Grades 4–5, students work in small groups, drawing a bicycle and a track and then racing the bicycle around the track. They graph data to see how close they can get to pacing themselves like an elite cyclist. To do this activity virtually, have students try on their own using a digital timer and then report back with their data.

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Download Teacher Guide

Activity 3: Post-Workout Smoothie

In this activity for Grades 4–6, students create an athlete, research the nutritional information of different ingredients, and use that information to make the perfect post-workout smoothie for their athlete.

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Activity 4: Medal Functions

In this activity for Grades 7–9, students research data about Olympic and/or Paralympic medals won by different countries, and then build a graph based on their findings.

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Download Teacher Guide

Activity 5: Setting Goals

In this math Olympic games activity for Grades 6+, students set a goal and track their progress. For students who are first learning about rates, the activity not only shows a real-world example, it also helps improve their lives along the way. For older students, the activity has a high ceiling and can contextualize topics including multivariable functions and nonlinear approximations.

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Download Teacher Guide


Learn more about the Math at Work web series, an effort in which industry leaders work with real students to demonstrate the importance of math.

This blog post, originally published in 2020, has been updated for 2021.

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