Playing Sports Bolsters Education

Competitive sports in today’s educational system are of the utmost significance and provide innumerable benefits to both the child and the school. While there are obvious benefits to sports like physical health for instance, there are also credible studies that indicate a positive correlation between sports and academic performance. Of course, correlation is not to say causation, but the positive trend exists regardless.

Take this study for example, which articulates verbatim “academic performance is better if young people play sports competitively.” Tests showed that adolescent athletic participation correlated with better study habits in addition to higher test scores as well. Apparently, appropriately enough, the study was conducted to address a growing trend of sports abandonment in children as they mature and enter secondary institutions. The primary reason cited for said abandonment was “the lack of time to combine sport and studies,” yet as you can see, said reason was proved false.

In fact, researchers found that it was indeed because of the lack of time that students were able to perform at a higher academic level. They were forced to learn time management skills as a result of the added commitment sports requires, and these skills in turn facilitated the development of decent study habits. Since sports-inclined adolescents are forced to account for the time sports take up, they are also forced to account for the time it takes to study and do homework. While the idiom may articulate, “the more time I have, the less I get done,” I imagine these motivated adolescents are singing a tune more similar to “the less time I have, the more I get done.”

The University of Arkansas also conducted a study which concluded with a similar sentiment. Dr. Daniel Bowen and Dr. Jay Greene analyzed school sports winning percentages and student athletic participation rates against graduation rates and standardized test scores. After five years and controlling for factors like student poverty levels, demographics, and school financial resources, the results reflected that athletic participation does indeed correlate with academic performance. Ms. Whitefield’s abstract of the same study even takes it to another level, speculating that “Cutting sports programs may inadvertently fray a school’s academic prowess.”

While that final thought is not necessarily supported with concrete data just yet, it does point to the fact that sports do not just benefit the educational system; they are an integral part of it. Actually, the aforementioned Daniel Bowen posited on a follow-up Atlantic cover story that the athletic reputation of a school contributes to its “social capital.” Said “social capital” is defined as “the norms, the social networks, and the relationships between adults and children that are of value for the child’s growing up.” He goes on to claim Coleman found social capital to be “highly predictive of academic success.” For the record, it should be noted that the research Bowen draws on, Coleman’s studies, actually view social capital and its positive associations from a religious standpoint.

However, that said, the whole point is that social capital is really pertaining to a child’s relationships with adults who are positive role models. In light of such, it easy to understand how sports would fortify social capital. Coaches, assistant coaches, and other well-adjusted adults are all allowed ample opportunity to provide a positive influence when acting as members of recreational or competitive athletic leagues.

Of course, this is all just a sliver of the potential benefits sports can and do provide for youth. From bringing kids together with positive role models to teaching children how to grow up, sports prepare adolescents not with just lesson books, but with bonafide influential experience.