Sports Participation and Academic Success

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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...
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