Football and the Pythagorean Theorem: There's Math in Sports?

Explore how the Pythagorean theorem can be used to determine the distance that a pass and a kick in football actually travel in this interactive from Alabama Public Television.

Before viewing the interactive, ask students some questions that relate to right triangles, such as:

Describe the construction of a right triangle. What are its parts? What are its angle measurements?

If you know certain information about a right triangle, such as the length of its legs or hypotenuse, how can you find missing measurements? (Introduce the term Pythagorean theorem if students do not mention it.)

How do you determine the square of a number? How about the square root?

2. Working Through the Interactive (20 minutes, whole group or small groups) Decide whether the activity should be done as a whole group or in small groups, according to your class size. Then, launch the interactive.

Review the vocabulary terms and the Pythagorean theorem for additional support or skip to the following screen.

Ask students, Have you ever thought about how the Pythagorean theorem could be used in sports, such as football?

Discuss a football field and how it’s marked in yards that can be used to determine gains and losses during play. In particular, discuss how passes and field goal kicks are measured. Then, move through screens dealing with the distance that a football actually travels for passes. Have students do the calculations to reinforce the mathematics.

After completing the first example, have students work on their own or in small groups to apply the Pythagorean theorem in calculating the length of a field goal kick.

3. Follow-Up Discussion (10 minutes, whole group) After students have completed the second example, ask them the following questions:

Before using this interactive, would you have thought that the Pythagorean theorem had a practical application in football?

What other ways do you think the Pythagorean theorem could be applied in everyday life? Have students name their ideas and explain their thinking.

Activity Extension: If students are ready to extend the lesson to finding the missing measurement for the distance between two points on a coordinate plane, continue with the last few screens of the interactive, beginning at “Let’s Stretch Our Thinking.” Students will see an introduction on calculating distance between two points in the coordinate plane, which flows naturally from finding the measurement of the hypotenuse for both the pass and the kick in football. Students will need to continue to practice finding distances between points to fully understand the standard.