Distances traversed in women's basketball: then and now

Earlier this year, Aaron Scanlan and his colleagues (2015) reported on the game demands of women’s (and men’s) semiprofessional basketball game play.
Their bibliography includes the following papers on female performance:

  • Daniele Conte et al (2015) on Italian elite women’s basketball.
  • Aaron Scanlon et al (2012) on physiological and activity demands in competition.
  • Dionne Matthew and Anne Delextrat (2009) on physiological demands and movement patterns.

These four papers cast my mind back to some of the godmothers of performance analysis in the 1930s, Pauline Hodgson, Anna Espenschade and Nancy Miner.
In this post, I compare some of the data collected in the 1930s in the United States with data collected by Aaron and his colleagues in 2014 in Australia.
I am introducing a new female researcher, Jane Laurence (Messersmith, Laurence and Randels, 1940).
Jane was an Instructor of Physical Education for Women at DePauw University. She appears to have taught there from 1939 to 1941.
Then (1930s)
Pauline Hodgson published two papers in the Research Quarterly in 1936. The second of these papers (Hodgson, 1936b) concerns “certain reactions of college women following participation in two-court basketball”. She points out in her introduction that “few systematic studies have been made and few data have been reported as to the demands of the game (of basketball) or the reactions of individuals to it” (1936b:45). Her paper reports data from the four players (two guards and two forwards) in the 1935 basketball season in practice and tournament play in two-court basketball.
These four participants:

were selected for this study on the basis of their extensive previous participation in the game of basketball, skill in the techniques of the game, and experience in playing various positions. All had played the three-court game for several seasons during the high school and college periods, and the two-court game for at least one season (1936b:45).

In addition, they were:

qualified for regular physical activity by the university physicians, and were participating in other vigorous physical activities from two to four hours per week. They understood the purpose of the study and were interested in both the practical and theoretical implications of the results. Their cooperation was at all times intelligent and sincere (1936b:45ff).

Pauline’s four participants were aged 18, 20, 20 and 21. Their heights were 64, 64.8, 67.2 and 67 inches respectively. Weights were 129, 136, 150 and 145 pounds. Their vital capacities were measured as 3.7, 3.7. 3.6 and 3.7 respectively.
Pauline measured the respiratory metabolism, pulse rate, systolic and diastolic pressures, and respiratory rate of each player in training and competition contexts. She provides a detailed account of her protocols (1936b:46). Her research coincided with data collected by Anna Espenschade and Nancy Miner on distances traveled and duration of active play (see also, Miner, Hodgson and Espenschade, 1940). Pauline’s acknowledgement of their work refers to J. Falconer too. My research indicates that this is Jessie Falconer who completed a Masters course with a thesis on women’s performance in backstroke swimming.
Pauline presents her data in two Tables: Table IIa (1936b:47) and Table IIb (1936b:48-49). The Tables include data on distances traveled from one practice session and two tournament games. There is a measure of duration of active play as a percentage of total playing time too.
In her discussion, Pauline notes:

there is no quantitative relationship between the physiological reaction of the player and external work done as indicated by average distances traveled and duration of active play. Many suggestions may be offered in explanation – variations in the physical condition of the subjects, and variations in continuity of play and in the time relationship of maximum effort in the game to the beginning of the recovery period …

Pauline returned to women’s basketball in a third paper (Hodgson, 1939). In this paper she looked at three-court basketball. She used the same four participants and had access to distance traveled and activity data collected by Anna Espenschade and Nancy Miner.
Pauline concluded her comparison of two games thus:

Variations in reaction within one type of game were greater than those between the two types. Analysis of data shows no clear distinction between the two games with respect to physiological demand. The differences found tend to be in favor of the greater stenuousness of the three-division game, although the differences are very slight and probably of no significance. (1939:60)

By 1940, Nancy Miner had moved to the University of Nebraska. Whilst there, she published the data she had been collecting with Anna Espenschade on two- and three-court basketball (Miner, Hodgson and Espenschade, 1940). In the introduction to their paper, Nancy and her colleagues report measures of inter-observer reliability for distances traveled by players and for the intensity of their activity. They provide data in their paper to compare ‘advanced’ and ‘intermediate players’. Data were collected from 1935 to 1937.
Intensity of effort measures in this research were:

a standing or walking

b running or jumping

c dashing

Nancy, Pauline and Anna conclude from their observations and analysis of the performance of advanced and intermediate players:

the distance traveled and the amount of time spent in strenuous activity by a superior player seem to depend upon her skill and that of the group rather than upon the type of game played. (1940:101)

Nancy had submitted her Masters thesis two years earlier (Miner, 1938).
Jane Laurence was one of three authors in a 1940 paper that reported data on distances traversed by men and women in intramural college basketball. Data were collected in the 1939-1940 season at DePauw University. Men and women played on the same size court (40’x70′).
Data were collected in real-time with Lloyd Messersmith’s pursuit apparatus. The paper shares data from twenty games (10 men’s games, 10 women’s games). Data are tracks of individual players. Women players played with two court basketball rules.
In the ten women’s games (each game lasted 32 minutes), distances traversed ranged from 3,794 feet (118 feet per minute for a guard in a zone defence) to 6,610 feet (206 feet per minute for a forward). The average distance traversed was 5,477 feet. Data from the men’s games indicated that men covered twice as much court in the same unit of time.

Now (2015)

Aaron Scanlan and his colleagues (Ben Dascombe, Andrew Kidcaff, Jessica Peucker and Vincent Dalbo have looked at basketball performance through a current lens. In their 2015 paper, they present a lapsed-time analysis of six games (3 women’s and 3 men’s) from a state competition. There were 24 participants in the study (12 female, 12 male).
Their Table 1 (2015:619) provides some detailed data about their participants:
Table 1
The six games that were recorded (details of procedure on page 620) were analysed with a LabVIEW frame-by-frame manual tracking system.
Aaron and his colleagues report:

Overall, female players covered significantly greater distances running than male players, while male players spent significantly longer and traveled significantly larger distances dribbling than female players. No significant gender differences were evident for all other frequency, duration, or distance activity outcome measures. (2015:620)

They used the following activity categories:

standing/walking (<3.6 km/h)

jogging (3.61-10.8 km/h)

running (10.81-25.2 km/h)

sprinting (>25.2 km/h)

low-intensity shuffling (multidirectional movement performed in a defensive stance <7.2 km/h)

high-intensity shuttling (multidirectional movement performed in a defensive stance >7.2 km/h), and dribbling.

They note:

The activity frequency data suggest there is little difference in the overall intermittent demands of basketball game play across genders competing at the same playing level. (2015:621)

The way we were

Aaron and his colleagues present a very detailed account of basketball play and conclude “This study provides the first direct gender comparison of the activity demands experienced during basketball play” (2015:624).
Their precursors in the 1930s did look at distances traversed and in 1940, Nancy Miner and her colleagues were trying to quantify activity in women’s basketball.
I have enjoyed connecting Queensland with the United States. The research papers from the 1930s and 1940 tend not to refer to other literature (there is some self-referencing). Aaron and his colleagues have 30 references, a number of which are part of a cumulative research tradition.
I do feel that our current research can be enriched by taking a step back in time. I am particularly interested in how a comparison of research methods ninety years apart might stimulate conversations with students about what it means to observe, record and analyse performance in real and lapsed-time.
In 1940:

The distance traveled was obtained by charting the path of the player on onion-skin paper superimposed on stiff cardboard on which the playing court was drawn to scale. A separate record was made for each minute of play observed. … As the path of the player was charted, the degree of intensity of her activity was also recorded … Each time a girl completed one of these types of activity, a dot was placed on the record and marked accordingly. At the same time, a, b, or c was called out to an assistant timekeeper who recorded the latter and the time at which it was called. (Miner, Hodgson and Espenschade, 1940:95)

In 2015:

Two wide-angle Basler A602FC color cameras (Basler Vision Technologies, Ahrensburg, Germany) were used for video-data acquisition across all captured games. The cameras were fixed to the stadium ceiling and positioned next to each other on the halfway line at a height above ground level (~6 m) and distance from the sideline (~2 m) to capture complete vision in each half of the court. All video recordings were sampled at 7.5 Hz to permit the storage of data on a computer in real time. Player activity was analyzed using a customized Labview frame-by-frame manual tracking system (National Instruments, Austin, TX, USA). During the postcapture analyses, each camera was calibrated using a 4-point transformation with premeasured dimensions of the court. This procedure permitted the calculation of player distances during analysis and allowed reconstruction of the collected images to account for perspective errors associated with the angle of the camera views. (Scanlan et al. 2015:620)


Hodgson, P. (1936a) Studies in the Physiology of Activity: I, On Certain Reactions of College Women to Measured Activity. Research Quarterly, VII (1), 3-25.
Hodgson, P. (1936b) Studies in the Physiology of Activity: II, On Certain Reactions of College Women Following Participation in Two-Court Basketball. Research Quarterly, VII (2), 45-55.
Hodgson, P. (1939) Studies in the Physiology of Activity: III, On Certain Reactions of College Women Following Participation in Three-Court Basketball. Research Quarterly, X (3), 53-60.
Messersmith, L., Laurence, J. & Randels, K. ( (1940) A Study of Distances Traversed by College Men and Women in Playing the Game of Basketball. Research Quarterly, XI (3), 30-31.
Miner, N. (1938) A study of the distance traversed and the time spent in walking, moderate running, and dashing in women’s three-court and two-court basketball. Unpublished Masters thesis University of California, Berkeley.
Miner, N., Hodgson, P. & Espenschade, A. (1940) Study of Distance Traversed and Time Spent in Active Play in Women’s Basketball. Research Quarterly, XI (1), 94-101.

Photo Credits

_DSC1338 (MGoBlog, CC BY-NC 2.0)
Western College on College Day 1912 (Miami University Libraries, no known copyright restrictions)
01 11 2013 (Eddie Milfort, CC BY 2.0)


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