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For the past 50 years, NBA basketball players successfully shoot about 75% of free throws, so it’s natural to think that is the natural limit. But that’s before science got involved …
Using a computer simulation of millions of trajectories based on shots by the best free-throw shooters, Scientists determined how various factors affect the chance of success. The magic formula: a launch angle of 52 degrees, three revolutions per second of backspin, and aiming for a spot 7 centimeters (2.8 inches) back from the center of the basket, toward the back of the rim.
With backspin, if the ball hits the rim or backboard, the contact deadens the ball. That means it comes off slower, stays closer to the basket and is more likely to fall in. Learn more here.
Table Tennis is a sport in which two or four players hit a lightweight, hollow ball back and forth using table tennis rackets. It is full of science …
If you thought that was impressive, check out the very best table tennis shots of 2012:
Who’s faster over 10 meters – the fastest sprinter in the world, or gravity?
Scientists study some arguably pointless things sometimes. Take for instance Kirk Goldsberry from Harvard University who has recently analysed every single shot taken by every single player in the NBA for the past five years.
The results … players score lots of points close to the basket and from the three point line.
The image above shows the point scoring per field goal attempt, from 2006 to 2011. Red means most points and blue means fewest; the size of the squares indicates how many shots were attempted from each spot. Learn more here.
All top-level athletes – like the the 17,000 that will descend on London for the Olympics in July 2012 – will probably have the optimal genes to compete at their chosen sport. They will have been training for years, and their diets will be finely honed. But it is in their minds where medals will be won or lost.
It’s only in the last decade or so that psychological training has been recognised as equally important to sporting success as the physical side. The psychologist to the British Olympic team runs twice-monthly sessions for athletes in the final year of the run-up to the Olympics. A pair of psychologists in Israel implement a four-year programme of psychological training with their athletes, which starts as soon as the last games finish.
Medal-winners tend to be those who are best able to control their emotions and focus their attention, and are brimming with confidence, motivation and optimism. The idea of psych-training is to help athletes reach this state of mind through strategies such as goal-setting, imagery, simulating the competitive environment and even talking to themselves. Learn more here.
Aging is commonly associated with a loss of muscle mass and strength, resulting in falls, functional decline, and the subjective feeling of weakness … but only if you don’t exercise, see:
Learn more here.
The nervous system is composed of special cells called neurons which send electrical messages around the body.
Reflexes are very quick, unconscious, and automatic responses to stimuli. They generally involve three neurons; a sensory neuron which receives the stimulus, an interneuron which passes the message on to, a motor neuron which generates a response from a muscle.
This kid has wicked reflexes!
How can you make people better at sports? Tell them they’re using equipment that previously belonged to a professional athlete. No, really. A new study finds that golfers significantly improved their putting ability when they believed the putter they were using belonged to a celebrity golfer.
The experiment didn’t show why this happened. It could have been a placebo effect, whereby something works because you think it’s going to, or the golfers might have done well because they were given more confidence in their putting skills.
In sports, confidence is a big deal. Generally, when people are more confident in their ability to perform a skill, they do better. If someone has confidence in a particular putter’s ability to help them perform that might bolster their own confidence.
That confidence could come from a belief in “contagion,” the idea that an object somehow absorbs the qualities of its previous owner. Learn more here.
When a person shoots a basketball (or frisbee), the exact force and direction necessary to give the ball a velocity that will result in a basket can be calculated exactly. There are no complications. The difficulty is that these quantities can’t be measured exactly by eye, and the application of the force is through muscles which can’t be controlled perfectly one hundred percent of the time.
So how do these guy manage to make so many shots successfully?
The answer is ‘kinesthetic memory‘. A player cannot possibly calculate the correct angle and force for a shot, and even if he knew what they were, couldn’t reliably make his muscles do exactly what was necessary. Instead, the player practices the shot over and over, thousands of times. What the repetition does is familiarize the athlete with what a good shot feels like, and what movements he was making to achieve that perfect shot. It’s the same in all sports.
In the case of this basketball player, he makes the shot often because he ‘lets his muscles do it’ … he does it exactly the same way he’s done it thousands of times before, and doesn’t have to think about it. Read more about the physics of basketball here.