Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Probability in Sports


Amber Stokes | Published: May 26th, 2022 by K20 Center


In this lesson, students will play basketball in the classroom to gather data and calculate their statistical chances of making a successful shot. Next, students will step into the role of an NBA statistician and determine probability using real-world scores. Then, using probability analysis, students write a letter to persuade their team's coach on what to practice.

Essential Question(s)

How can probability inform coaching staff decision-making for sporting events?



Students watch a video of NBA highlights and discuss what they know about basketball.


Students "shoot baskets" to collect data. Then, they use the data to determine their own probability of making a successful shot.


As a class, students discuss how they analyzed their data, how it can be used, and what form—decimal, fraction, or percentage—is most helpful for basketball.


Stepping into the role of an NBA statistician for a chosen team, students gather real NBA data to determine the probability of their team making 2-point and 3-point shots.


Students summarize their findings in a letter to the coach of their team, using probability to persuade the coach on what to practice.


  • Classroom "basketballs" (such as crumpled paper, foam balls, etc.)

  • Classroom "basketball hoop" (such as a trashcan, bowl, etc.)

  • Probability in Sports lesson slides (attached)

  • Shot Statistics handout (attached, one per pair of students)

  • Statistician's First Day handout (attached, one per student)

  • Internet-enabled devices for students

  • Notebook paper

  • Pencils


Use the attached slide show to guide the lesson. Begin with slides 2 and 3, introducing students to the lesson title and the Essential Question.

Ask students to write down everything they know about basketball, using the Collective Brain Dump strategy on slide 5. This might include rules, teams, players, equipment involved, etc. Remind students that, for this activity, writing ideas down is more important than proper grammar or sentence structure.

Allow 3–4 minutes for students to brainstorm. Once finished, ask for volunteers to share what they wrote down. Consider using a whiteboard space to list what students come up with for their collective brain dump.

Move to slide 6 and show the NBA highlights video. The full video is eight minutes long. Any specific length or video highlights can be used or cut, depending on your classroom needs.


Move to the directions on slide 8. Now the students will collect their own real basketball statistics. Sort the class into pairs. Pass out the Shot Statistics handout, with one handout to each pair. For this activity, students should line up at the shooting line(s). The first player in each pair should shoot the "basketball" 10 times towards the basket. The second player should keep track of which shots were made or missed on the Shot Statistics handout. Once the first player shoots ten times, have each pair switch roles. The first player will now record the second player's ten shot attempts.

After each student has completed the activity, ask pairs to work together to find the statistical probability of each player making a successful shot. The probability should be represented in decimal, reduced fraction, and percentage forms.


Move to slide 10. Ask the class for volunteers to discuss their findings. In addition, ask the following questions:

  1. How did you find your probability?

  2. Who has the highest chance of making a successful shot?

  3. Which form (decimal, fraction, or percentage) would be most helpful for a basketball coach to use? Why?


Move to slide 12 and pass out the Statistician's First Day handout to each student. Invite students to start their first day as an official NBA statistician. Using the link or QR code on the slide or handout, have students navigate to this website. Following along with students on a projection screen if possible, ask each pair to scroll down to the "Division Standings" or "Conference Standings" chart and choose the team they'd like to work for. On the next page, have them select the "Schedule & Results" tab. At the bottom of the "Regular Season" heading, have students use the last four games played to fill out the first table on the handout.

Make sure that when a given date is selected, students navigate to the correct game, as the page will list all teams who played on that date. Students should find their team's city, and in the same box, select "Shot Chart." Here, students can use the chart under their team's name to find data for 2-point shots attempted (2PA), 2-point shots successfully made (2P), 3-point shots attempted (3PA), and 3-point shots successfully made (3P). Have students record these numbers on their handouts, as well as the date of the game next to "Game 1 (G1)". Repeat for games 2, 3, and 4.

Ask students to use the data they collected to calculate the probability both shots for each game in simplified fraction and percentage forms. Then, students should calculate total probability of a successful shot across all games for both 2- and 3-point shots.


Move to slide 14. Now that students have collected and analyzed the data, ask them to use the information to write a letter to their team's coach. Their goal is to persuade the coach to practice either 2-point or 3-point shots. Space is provided on the Statistician's First Day handout to write.

Remind students to be specific with their data and use the numbers they came up with.