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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Review of The Secret Science of Sports

Just in time for the Olympics, Jennifer Swanson's book, The Secret Science of Sports: The Math, Physics, and Mechanical Engineering Behind Every Grand Slam, Triple Axel, and Penalty Kick, released by Black Dog & Leventhal on July 20th.

Believe it or not, every sport involves science, from physics and biology to technology and math. And you don't have to take my word for it. With a fun conversational tone, graphics, fun experiments, and an examination of the strategic elements of each, this engaging book looks at a wide range of sports from baseball, swimming, wrestling, tennis, lacrosse, surfing, and gymnastics, as well as many others.

The Secret Science of Sports

Author: Jennifer Swanson

Publisher: Running Press Book Publishers (2021)

Ages: 8-12


Why does a football spiral? How do some athletes jump so high? The answer is science! The Secret Science of Sports helps kids better understand concepts of science, technology, engineering, and math through the sports they love to play and watch.

Every sport -- from baseball to basketball, to football and soccer, to wrestling, tennis, and lacrosse -- involves a bit of science, technology, engineering, and math. You can't throw a ball without Newton's Law of Motion, and you can't calculate a player's stats without math. And every type of sports equipment -- a helmet, cleats, shoulder or knee pads -- were designed with the latest engineering and technology.

The Secret Science of Sports breaks down normally difficult STEM concepts like forces of motion, gravity, algebra, and even neuroscience, in a language kids can -- and will want to -- understand. Divided into sections like chemistry, biology, physics, technology, and more, this handy guide uses examples from sports like soccer, baseball, softball, football, hockey, lacrosse, tennis, and others to explain important STEM concepts for kids ages 8 to 12. They'll learn how to use math to calculate a batter's average, why a tennis racket is shaped the way it is, how biology affects athletic performance, the aerodynamics behind competitive swimsuits, and much more. With dozens of original, captivating illustrations to engage young readers, kids will have fun while learning about key STEM ideas that will prepare them for years of schooling to come.

What I LIKED about this book:

To start it all off, the book begins with an evaluation of "body science." Including how drag, BMI, wing span, flexibility, agility, and focus relate to someone's ability in a given sport. It examines the body's systems (nervous, circulatory, respiratory, and nutrition) that work together to help athletes perform their best and prevent or heal from injuries.

Interspersed throughout the chapters are discussions of the laws of science and physics. I love that each of the four chapters and multiple sections are loaded with diagrams and rules of the various sports and include fun activities and experiments. Such as finding your wingspan in the body science portion.

© Jennifer Swanson

Did you know that the "t" in sports "stands for technology? As Jennifer explains, EVERY sport has some technological element involved. Such as safety helmets with sensors, a carbon nanotube kayak, anti-fungal socks, or specially designed shoes. Technology improves performance and reduces injury in ways you might not even be aware of. I appreciated that in addition to looking at future advances, the book examined the ethics surrounding the use of some of this technology. Each section also includes sidebars or sections, with a molecular symbol that contain additional scientific facts or fun information to implement.

© Jennifer Swanson

Okay, you can see how biology and technology function throughout all sports, but what about engineering?

Engineers use forces, movement, and physics in creating sports equipment and athletes use them to improve their game. Can you name the sports affected by lift and drag? You might be surprised by some of them. Finally, the book examines the role of math in sports, from its use in scoring, loads of statistics (the book looks at what gets tracked in numerous sports and some of the formulas involved), percentages, probability, and the velocity required to do a triple axel and a triple twisting flip? You'll even find math in sports like surfing, bouldering, skateboarding, archery, or triathlons.

Basically, the book purposes that "without physics, brain science, math, and engineering skills, there wouldn't be any sports." Although, you might argue that early athletes competed in sports without all of this knowledge. But they still used many of these sciences - and as our knowledge within these sciences have evolved, so has their application to sports. What about the games kids play? The engineering and technological advances highlighted in the book have comparable applications in the equipment and safety devices used by kids. So, this book is a great place to start learning about The Secret Science of Sports. And who knows, maybe as Jennifer Swanson noted, this book could help you improve your own performance in your favorite sport.


- what is your favorite sport? How has its equipment changed over the years? For instance, skis have gone from boards strapped one's feet to highly engineered shaped boards made of fiberglass, carbon composite, aluminum, and titanium.

- is there a game you like to play with family or friends? Does it involve equipment (jump rope, marbles, croquet mallet, or playing pieces)? Have these changed over the years? How do you know who wins?

- can you think of a sport or game that is not scored in some way?


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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