Sports Participation and Academic Success

Published: 2021-07-17 15:05:05
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Category: Adolescence, Experiment, Academic, Academic Success

Type of paper: Essay

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Sports Participation and Academic Success Kurtis Arnold Grand Valley State University As an increasingly relevant part of society, sports seem to find a way into many parts of our everyday lives from the global stage to our own individual experiences and feelings towards them. Not only are sports and athletic competition used for the purpose of entertaining, but the core values of athletic competition are reflected also in the mainstream cultural values in society (Snyder & Spreitzer, 1974).
Some of these values include striving for excellence, fair play, sportsmanship, hard work, and commitment to a goal, and all are applauded in virtually every area in society outside of sports. Another interesting point to be made about athletics in society is that those who seem to excel in an area of athletics, and participate competitively in sports, seem to be held to higher status than those who are not viewed to be athletic.
This trend can occur as early as middle school (Eder & Kinney, 1995), and often continues through high school (Zentner & Parr, 1968), college (Finkenberg & Moode, 1996), and even beyond college in professional sports as many dream of one day becoming a professional athlete (Stiles, Gibbons, Sebben, & Wiley, 1999). Much has been written about the relationship of sports and society in a broader sense, but little has been discovered through about the role of athletics as it relates to academic outcomes for adolescents.



Even less is known about the specific benefits of athletic participation that may exist for various students of different racial backgrounds. What is currently assumed in the literature is that participation in sports benefit adolescents academically in a number of important ways. First, it seems that sports participation enhances students feeling of connectedness to one’s school. Secondly, sports participation seems to promote its own intrinsic value on students.
That is, students who are able to find structured activities within school settings that capture their attention will be more likely to assimilate to the philosophy of schooling (Jordan, 1999) Participation in sports may also foster an extrinsic motivation for students to do well in their academic studies so that they may stay eligible to participate in athletics. Although the literature illustrates some of the reasons participation in sports may facilitate higher academic achievement, the question still remains.
Does sports participation in fact have a positive effect on academics? This may be an easy enough question to ask, but the difficulties in answering this question seem to be extensive. Many past studies have sought to answer this question by conducting regression analyses of cross-sectional data sets collected from students throughout the country in order to determine if sports participation is correlated with higher academic outcomes.
It seems from a review of the literature that no one has been able to conduct an experimental study which tests the effects of sports participation verses non-participation on some form of academic outcome. The difficulty in conducting a truly experimental study of the relationship of sports participation with academic outcomes comes from a number of different problems that come with the design of such a study. One such difficulty is the voluntary nature of sports participation.
Sports participation occurs on a voluntary basis in which student athletes choose whether or not to participate in sports. Because of this, it becomes difficult to design a study in absence of self-selection biases among participants (Jordan, 1999). Another difficulty in designing an experiment testing sports participations effects on academic outcomes is the vast number of participants that would be needed to participate in the experiment. The benefit of using data from national longitudinal surveys is the vast amount of data that can be obtained in a relatively simple and inexpensive fashion.
Also, in the analysis of this data, researchers are able to statistically control for a number of variables such as socioeconomic status, risk factors, and parental education level that may contaminate the effects of sports participation on academic outcomes. In contrast, an experimental study would have to offset these variables through random selection, and random assignment to conditions. Both of these processes require a large population in order to truly eliminate these confounding variables. It is for these reasons, among others, that research n the topic of sports participation and academic outcomes remains in its early stages of development, and tend to rely heavily on the analysis of data. Although the research on the relationship between athletics and academic outcomes remain in its early stages, current research has made important contributions to our understanding of how participation in sports may have an impact on academic outcomes. One such interesting finding from the research is that in general, an extremely few number of students participate in organized sports (Jordan, 1999).
According to the National Educational Longitudinal Study conducted in 1988 (NELS: 88) only about 21% of students participated in teams sports, and 15% of students were involve in individual sports when students who participated in both team and individual sports were included. This finding suggests that whatever impact sports participation may have on students’ academic outcomes, very few students have the opportunity to receive these benefits. Jordan (1999) also found that participation in sports did have a positive relationship with students GPA, self-concept, academic preparedness, and standardized test scores.
Although the relationship between sports participation and the academic improvement in these areas may be small, the relationships remain both positive and consistent for students across gender, and racial lines. It is also noted that these types of improvements may not be limited only to sports participation, but may also be expanded to other school related extracurricular activities as well (Jordan, 1999). Another study, also analyzing data from the NELS: 88 surveys, found similar effects of sports participation on academic outcomes.
According to Broh (2002) student participation in athletics does help to facilitate success in the classroom. This facilitation of increased success may be for a number of reasons, and Broh attempts to explain the findings in this study according to three different theoretical models. The first, and most popular of these theoretical models is the developmental model. For a number of years it has been the belief of researchers, educators, and the public that involvement in athletics helps to socialize students in ways that promote academic success.
While participating in athletics, students learn important skills such as a strong work ethic, self-discipline, respect for authority, and perseverance which can all be used for academic success as well (Miracle & Rees, 1995). Also, repeated success in athletics through the learning of a new skill, and also in winning a competition helps students to develop a higher level of self-esteem, and confidence which can be carried over into academics. In Broh’s (2002) study, the developmental model accounted for one third of sports participations effects on academic outcome.
Sports participation does in fact seem to help to improve students’ self-esteem, locus of control, and time spent on homework. It is assumed that these habits eventually translate into better academic outcomes. Another model used by Broh (2002) to explain why sports participation may be linked to academic outcome is the leading-crowd theory. For many years the developmental theory dominated popular beliefs of the relationship between sports participation and academic outcomes.
So much in fact that little attempt was given to make an alternative argument for it. Recently however, the leading-crowd theory has offered some challenge to the developmental theory. According to the leading-crowd theory, participation in sports offers a higher social status to those who participate and facilitates a membership into the “leading-crowd. ” Consisting of the most popular students in high school, this leading-crowd is disproportionately comprised of college oriented, high achieving students (Rehberg & Schafer, 1968).
Although the argument may be indirect, there is some evidence that suggests that high school athletes are among the students with the highest status in high schools (Zentner & Parr, 1968), and they also seem to be part of a college oriented peer group (Wells & Picou, 1980). In Broh’s (2002) study, only a small effect was found between being in a high status, college oriented peer group and higher academic outcomes. This may be the case because students do not gain as much from being a part of a high status, college oriented group of peers as they do from the social connections made by participation in sports.
The third model used by Broh (2002) was the social capital theory. The social capital theory is the idea that people have the ability to accrue benefits through membership in various social networks. According to Coleman (1988), the family is the greatest source of social capital for students. Students whose parents are well educated, and spend a significant amount of time interacting with their children, often tend to have higher educational outcomes than those who do not. Sports may also serve as a way for students to have greater amounts of interaction with highly educated adults.
Because high school sports are often coached by administrators, teachers, or highly respected members of the community, an increased amount of interaction with these authority figures may in fact help to encourage athletes to not only be successful on the field, but also in the classroom (Portes, 2000). In Broh’s (2002) study, there was some evidence that a social capital exchange may be taking place among students and the adults they interact with in their athletic activities.
It seems from this study that social capital had an effect on student’s grades, but did not have an effect on standardized test scores. What is important to note is that when each of the theoretical models were analyzed individually in Broh’s (2002) study, the results indicated only small, if any, effects on academic outcomes. The best results of analysis occurred when all three models (developmental theory, leading-crowd theory, and social capital theory) were analyzed together.
Even when all three models were analyzed, there is still a great deal of variance left unexplained when it comes to the effects of sports participation on academic outcomes. This has been consistent with much of the literature involved with sports participation and academic outcomes (Broh, 2002). Other research in the area of sports participation focuses on the types of people who participate in sports. As previously described, research in the area of sports participation has mostly come from cross-sectional data analysis.
This has made it difficult to determine a causal order between sports participation and academic outcomes. Although sports participation may in fact be the reason for higher academic outcomes, it could also be the case that higher achieving, disciplined, determined, and goal oriented youth are the ones choosing to participate in sports (Spreitzer, 1994). It is for this reason that some researchers have sought to discover more about the types of people who participate in sports.
According to a study conducted by Videon (2002) participation is athletic activities may be associated with a student’s socioeconomic status, siblings, family structure, year in school, attendance at a private school, size of school, region of the country, and whether or not the school was located in an urban area. After analyzing data collected from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (ADD Health), it was discovered that a number of the variables previously mentioned could be used to predict whether or not a student would participate in athletics.
Variables contributing to the influencing of students towards sports participation may be referred to as socialization into sport. One of the major factors contributing to the socialization into sport has been found to be parental influence. Often times, a child’s parent, or parents are the first to expose their child to athletics and their encouragement to participate strongly influences a student’s decision to start playing sports, and continue to play them throughout their schooling (Videon, 2002). Another key factor in predicting which students will play sports and continue to play them is a student’s socioeconomic background.
It is a known fact that participating in sports often comes with its expenses. Although some schools may offer the use of equipment for some of the sports offered, often times this does not include all of the equipment needed to play the sport. At a minimum, most parents will have to purchase cleats, special gloves, bats, and numerous other types of equipment in order for their child to play any given sport. Along with the expense of equipment, most schools have a “pay to play” policy for sports in order to subsidize their lacking in the sports budget.
It is for these reasons that those students who participate in sports also tend to come from a higher socioeconomic background (Videon, 2002). Another import thing to note from research is that sports participation tends to be much lower for girls than it is boys, especially among African American students (Videon 2002, Jordan 1999, Zentner & Parr 1968). Although the passing of title IX has encouraged more female participation in sports, over thirty years later the number of girls participating in sports is still far less than the number of boys.
This especially true in suberban, and rural areas where the number of girls participating in sports is only about three for every five. These numbers are compared to those of urban schools where the number of girls participating is three for every four (Videon, 2002). It may be the case that because of lower participation rates among girls that fewer benefits of athletic participation are being experianced by girls. This may or may not be the case. Some research suggests that the effects of sports participation among boys on academic outcomes may be stronger for boys than it is for girls (Snyder & Spreitzer 1974, Videon 2002).
There are a number of explanations for boys benefitting more from athletic participation. One such explanation is that by being involved in a sport, boys will be less likely to skip class in order to avoid not being allowed to play. Also, boys are more likely to respond to the high expectations of coaches in order to stay eligible to play (Videon, 2002). These relationships may not be showing up as strongly for girls, because on average girls have higher academic outcomes than boys, and skip class less often regardless of whether or not they participate in sports (Jacobs, 2009).
Although from the research conducted by Videon (2002) indicates that some of the reason for athletes having higher academic outcomes may be contributed to other factors (student’s socioeconomic status, siblings, family structure, size of school, region of the country, and whether or not the school was located in an urban area), the net result of the analysis still showed that some of the varience can be explained by the sports participation itself.
In this study (Videon, 2002), in Brohs study (2002), and in Jordan (1999), none were able to show that sports participation could explain more than about nine percent of the variance for any type of academic outcome. In all three, however, the results seemed to be consistant and positive. In spite of the small amounts of varience explained, it still seems that sports participation could be a contributing factor for positive academic outcomes.
What is important to remember when making a judgment on the variance explained by sports participation on academic outcomes is that there are innumerable variables that may contribute to a student’s academic outcome. It is difficult to narrow down an explanation for academic outcomes to only a few variables that explain a great deal of the variance. So, when we see that sports participation can only explain about three to five percent of the variance for various factors contributing to academic outcomes this is in fact a considerable amount.
Although the findings of these studies were able to find significant positive effects of sports participation on academic outcomes, these findings do not seem to be representative of the public’s perception. It has long been the belief of the public that sports participation has strong influences on academic outcomes. Various studies have investigated public perceptions of sports participation and its relationship to academics and found that it is strongly believed by the public that athletics and academics are strongly related (Goidel & Hamilton, 2006; Fairweather, 1988; Finkenberg & Moode, 1996).
Regardless of these beliefs, there has yet to be a study that shows a strong relationship between athletics and academic outcomes that is representative of the public’s perceptions. It is unknown as to why the public so strongly believes in this relationship, but the fact still remains that the effect of athletics on academics remains too small to make an argument for encouraging students to participate in sports in order to achieve higher academic outcomes.

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