Interscholastic Sports & Academics
What effect if any do interscholastic sports have on a young person’s academic achievements? A great deal of the literature indicates that playing interscholastic sports can help a student become more proficient and successful in his or her academic pursuits. This paper references studies that present the facts regarding the mainly positive effects that interscholastic sports can have on a middle school or high school student’s success in the classroom.
An article in Kappa Delta PI Record (Lumpkin, et al., 2010, p. 124) references the National Federation of State High School Associations’ (NFHS) data that shows “â€¦more than 7,000,000 interscholastic athletes in the United States” are doing better academically than students that are not out for sports. Lumpkin refers to NFHS data that shows: a) those seven million students overall “have higher grade-point averages“; b) they also have “lower dropout rates, better daily attendance, and fewer discipline problems” than those not playing sports (pp. 124-125).
The article by Lumpkin is directed towards interscholastic coaches, and among the issues that the author asks coaches to stress is that while “winning” is important, winning is “often overemphasized” (p. 125). The point needs to be reinforced that coaches need to “â€¦Stress academic achievement first and foremost,” Lumpkin explains on page 125).
Meanwhile Patricia Lyons-Daniels’ research shows that participation in sports gives the adolescent an opportunity to enhance his or her “â€¦self-esteem, self-efficacy, competence, academic achievement and fitness” (Lyons-Daniels, 1999, p. 12). Students who go out for sports in middle school, the level of education that Lyons-Daniels investigates, find out that the competitive demands of competitive athletics tends to “â€¦mirror other life experiences” (12). In fact sports often results in “â€¦the development of positive self-esteem and self-conceptâ€¦ how an individual perceives his or her self,” Lyons-Daniels continues. Why is self-esteem and self-concept important for middle school children? The “prestige” that often comes from doing well in sports can produce a “more positive self-concept” which can lead to “higher aspirations in academics” (Lyons-Daniels, 13).
The author of this article references the research of Harter (1982), Klint & Weiss (1987) and Ewing & Seefelt (1990), to assert that students with a strong sense of physical competence posses “higher perceptions of self-efficacy” (14). And students playing sports, who perceive themselves as competent, tend to make judgments about their level of competence in “scholastic performance, physical performance, and peer relationships” (14). Additional research links competency to motivation, and hence, the desire for a middle school student to be competent is one of the “most frequent motives for participating in sports activities,” Lyons-Daniels continues (14).
Lyons-Daniels mentions research by Lee et al. (1991) that concluded there is a “positive relationship” between “academic achievement and pro-academic behaviors for African-American students” (17). The behaviors that improved when engaged in sports were “better homework habits, attitude toward school, cooperation with teachers, and study habits” (17). In fact, Hawkins’ (1992) research, referenced by Lyons-Daniels, indicated that participation in sports in middle school “is positively associated with the aspirations of African-American eighth-grade males to enroll in college preparatory programs” (17).
The research by Stern, et al., reflects a study by Stegman and Stephens (2000) that reported high school athletes that played at least one sport in each of their four years “â€¦ outperformed low-participant athletes in class rank, overall GPA, and math GPA” (Stern, et al., 2008, p. 190). Another research project that Stern brings to light shows that athletes that participated in interscholastic sports “for many seasons and many years” had a “higher level of scholarship” than athletes that just played sports for one year (190).
Stern references statistics from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics; that information — based on data from 10,944 eighth grade students — showed “a significant relationship between co-curricular participation and academic achievement” (191). Yet another study of 8th graders — this one in a middle school in Omaha, Nebraska during the 1998-99 school year — showed that “Both male and female athletes had significantly higher GPAs than non-athletes of the same sex,” Stern reports (191).
Not all research indicates that there is clearly a strong relationship between playing sports and doing well in the classroom. Professor Feng S. Din of the University of Virginia conducted a study of five high schools in rural areas of Kentucky, in the Appalachian Mountains area. The professor selected 225 students that played basketball, football, baseball, track, volleyball, softball and cheerleading. Four of the six teams selected were boys and 2 were girls’ teams. The grades of all 225 students were noted before and after sports seasons.
“A very small number of students achieved slightly lower grades at the end of the sports season, and several students received higher grades in some courses,” Din explained (Din, 2006, p. 6). In fact, in his Discussion, Din reported that “Generally speaking, participating in school-sponsored sport activities did not make any changes on the participating students’ learning outcomes” (p.9). The grades of most students “remained basically unchangedâ€¦ their participating in sport activities did not seem to have any impact on their academic learning,” Din concluded.
While author Ron Woods views high school interscholastic sports as a positive, he also sees a downside to sports in high school. On the positive side, Woods notes that his investigations reflect that high school students out for competitive sports “tend to have” higher grade point averages, lower rates of dropping out of school and stronger records as far as school attendance (Woods, 2007, p. 121). The Women’s Sports Foundation and several states’ sports foundations have verified these facts that Woods has presented.
In “virtually every segment of the U.S. population,” Woods continues, there is “strong support” for interscholastic athletics (121). Indeed, sports as part of the educational experience for middle school and high school students continues to be “â€¦a critical factor in the personal development of young people,” the author goes on. However, he cautions, a “fair and comprehensive analysis of high school sport reveals both positive and negative effects of participation” (Wood, 121). By that he means that because high school populations typically include “cliques,” sports can sometimes create “disunity” (121).
In other words, Woods is saying athletic cliques can become like separate cultures within the culture of the high school, and there can be resentment and even bullying when other cliques challenge the sports cliques or somehow get on the bad side of them.
While Ron Woods may be somewhat correct in his assertion that interscholastic sports can create “disunity,” his point misses the big picture. Most research shows that as a general rule, student athletes tend to do better in the classroom than non-students. With all the distractions that are out there for adolescents in 2011 (digital technologies, video games, movies, parties, cars, sex, drugs, alcohol), playing sports is a wonderfully fulfilling experience. Indeed, there can be no question that in a vast majority of cases, interscholastic sports are healthy, motivating, and academically productive for students.
Din, Feng S. (2006). Sport Activities vs. Academic Achievement for Rural High School
Students. National Forum of Applied Educational Research Journal-Electronic, 19(3E),
Lumpkin, Angela, and Stokowski, Sarah. (2011). Interscholastic Sports: A Character-Building
Privilege. Kappa Delta Pi Record. Retrieved June 19, 2011, from http://www.kdp.org/publications/pdf/record/sp11/Record_Sp_11_Lumpkin.pdf.
Lyons-Daniels, Patricia. (1999). Interscholastic Sports and the Middle School Student: A Case
Study. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Retrieved June 19, 2011, from http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-120299-170148/unrestricted/mssports.pdf.
Stern, Barbara Slater, and Kysillka, Marcella L. (2008). Contemporary Readings in Curriculum.
Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Woods, Ron. (2007). Social Issues in Sport. Champaign, ILL: Human Kinetics.
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