High school can be a challenging and changing experience for adolescents. It is a time of not only intellectual growth, but also a period in a young person’s life that helps to shape and determine their path for their future. Many students are making decisions about what colleges to go to and even attempting to tackle the huge task of figuring out what career they might possibly pursue. This can add even more pressure on top of the social and academic pressures that come with being a high school student. Though high school can be an exciting time full of great experiences, it is also the place where many students take the wrong path. Some may gain new friends that negatively influence them in their behavior. Others may see their social lives as a priority over their school work or, just the opposite, have difficulty adjusting to high school and fitting in. All could greatly impact not only the student’s high school career, but also their future as well. Being a part of an athletic team is a way to ensure success in both areas. Participating in high school athletics not only improves a student’s overall academic performance, but also has beneficial effects beyond their high school education.
When we refer to students who are members of an athletic team in high school, most of the time we call them student-athletes. Most everyone would agree that academics should come first and participation in sports should come second. This is why athletic programs have eligibility requirements, grade parameters being one of them (“Sports Participation”). Because many high schools require their athletes to maintain certain letter grades for their classes or a specific grade point average, students not only have to focus on their athletic performance, but their academic performance as well. Though it would not be an uncommon belief that students’ grades could suffer due to sports participation, juggling both the demands academics as well as athletics, a three-year academic study done by Dr. Roger Whitley for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association seems to prove otherwise. The study showed that the mean grade point average of those who were athletes was a 2.86, while the mean grade point average of non-athletes was 1.96 (Whitley). From that comparison, it can be concluded that playing sports can have a very positive effect on high school students’ education. Whether this effect can be credited to the academic requirements placed on athletic participation and the students’ desire to be eligible to play or if it is simply the matter of students learning how to be responsible after taking on the responsibilities of both school and sports, it isn’t important. Academic success in high school is crucial for a successful future and being a student-athlete is beneficial in this way.
Sports participation not only demands an academic commitment, but also a time commitment as well. It is because of this that high school athletes have better attendance, lower dropout rates, and fewer discipline problems than their peers. It is a simple fact that if you want to be a member of a sports team in high school, you have to attend class. Sports can be motivators for students to be at school when at all possible. School systems, is most cases, require student-athletes to be counted present for the school day in order for them to be able to attend a sports team practice. On top of this, many coaches will not let a student start or sometime even participate in an athletic event if he or she has missed practice the week of the event. This is why athletes average missing over one week less of school each year than students who do not play sports. The average number of days missed by athletes is 6.52 days in a 180-day school year, compared to 12.57 days for non-athletes (Whitley). Being a member of a sports team is commitment that requires hard work and dedication. Part of that dedication is having good school attendance to be able to practice and, in turn, put the hard work from practice to use in competitions against other athletic teams.
Student-athletes must be highly involved in their academics and athletics to be a contributing member to a sports team and this not only causes them to have better attendance, but also lower dropout rates. The Whitley study concluded that the dropout rate was only 0.7 percent for athletes, a dramatic different from the 8.98 percent of non-athletes who dropped out of high school (Whitley). There are many factors that contribute to this significant contrast. Students who are part of an athletic team have a huge support system made up of their teammates and coaches. Strong relationships can be formed from being a part of a group that is unified to reach a common goal. They can provide encouragement and a reliable shoulder to turn to for help. This is a benefit that not all high school students can say they have and, because of that, make the decision more often to quit school.
Many student-athletes have a sense of pride for their school. Athletic events can be a big deal for not only the players, but also their peers and other members of the community. Some high school players become well-known for their athletic abilities. Being in the spotlight makes athletes representatives of their school and places high expectations on them. Though this may put pressure on teenagers, it can also make them strive to do their best. Athletic events bring other student's and members to stand behind their team, supporting and encouraging the team and its players when they are struggling and applauding them when they succeed. Student-athletes, having this type of connection with their school and community, provides a reinforcement for completing thier high school education.
Along with betting academics and attendance, and decreasing drop out rates, high school sports also play a positive role in adolescent behavior. “Students who spend no time in extracurricular activities are 49 percent more likely to use drugs and 37 percent more likely to become teen parents than those who spend one to four hours per week in extracurricular activities” (National Federation). Involvement in high school athletics is a positive way for students to spend what would have otherwise been leisure time. The majority of teams practice at least a few days a week, not including the actual athletic events. Sports are a way for teenagers to use their time after school constructively and help cut down on self-destructive or delinquent behavior. Besides cutting down the time in which adolescents could get into trouble, sports can be an incentive that will deter students from having disciplinary problems during school hours and unlawful acts while out of school. If high school athletes have these types of issues, their playing time could be taken away or, under serious circumstances, they could be removed from the team altogether. For these reasons, students in high school participating in an athletic program have fewer behavioral issues than those who do not. The Whitley study concluded that “the percentage of discipline referrals by the reporting schools was significantly lower for the athlete group that the non-athlete group; referrals for athletes ran at a 30.51 percentage while the referral percentage for non-athletes was 40.29 percent."
Throughout the course of high school, student-athletes learn more than just the technical aspects of sports. Participation in sports can be a character building experience in which a young person gains qualities and skills that will benefit them even when they are no longer involved in them. “Athletics are linked to increasing one’s development of discipline, confidence, motivation, ability to work in groups, competitive spirit, ability to accept constructive criticism, and social networking” (Heidberder). With these attributes, former high school athletes have what they need to be successful throughout their college education and in their future careers. A study done by Brigham Young University fount that females who participated in a sport in high school were 41 percent more likely to graduate from college than those who did not (Koebler). Male high school athletes graduated college at a four percent high rate than those who where not involved in athletics. Though this difference is not as significant, men who played sports in high school, regardless of college education, were paid 31 percent higher wages than those who did not (Heidbreder). Though it may not be obvious at the time, the traits aquired through playing sports are ones, along with education, that employers look for and what gives former high school athletes an edge over others in salary. “It can be concluded that the persons that participate in high school athletics possess qualities which are found to be desirable by employers at all education levels” (Heidberder).
Though there are numerous benefits to participating in high school sports, there are always downsides to the good. Some students make the mistake of taking advantage of the privilege of being a student-athlete. Some athletes, especially those who demonstrate impressive athletic ability in their sport, receive special attention and admiration from members of their community. Karen Miller concluded from her study on the relationship of athletic involvement and adolescent delinquency that "public and peer adulation may lead athletes to perceive themselves as outside the normal rules or 'above the law' and thus free to engage in conventionally unacceptable behavior without penalty." High schools that are well known for their athletic programs' acheivements place great importance on their sports teams and players. If a high school's star athlete does not meet academic requirements during the season to be qualified to participate in athletic events, coaches and teachers may make exceptions for the player, giving them additional opportunities to pull up thier grades and ensure their eligibility for competition. If their are behavioral issues, such as inappropriate or minor crimial behavior, the highly recognized athlete may receive a significantly less harsh punishment. Not only is unfair to other students, it is possible for those receiving special treatment due to sports will hold on to this beyond high school, having the same expectations later in life.
No matter the performance level, sports can be extremely competitive. High school is the time in which many athletes are able to develop their abilities and become skilled in their sport. For student-athletes who plan to attend college after high school, sports scholarships pose a great potential opportunity for both financially challenged and secure athletes and families. While this can be a motivator for hard work and practice for some, for others who largely base themselves and their lives around their athletics, it can lead athletes to go to dishonest and even dangerous lengths to be successful in their sport. From her study, Miller determined that "athletes whose identities and/or opportunities for motility are most strongly or exclusively tied to their sport may engage in behaviors that are deviant in nature but conventional in motivation, such as the use of performance-enhancing or pain-masking drugs in order to conform to a sport ethic of success, excellence and stoicism” (Miller). A student-athlete taking these drugs may see it as just another way to increase their performance along with training. Most teenagers do not grasp the negative health affects that these drugs cause and if they do, for them, the benefits outweigh the risks. Beside the dangers, there are moral issues as well. High school athletes that use performance-enhancing drugs may have the upper hand over those who do not, but it is an unfair advantage. Despite it all, many athletes in high school take the wrong step for getting ahead in their sport.
While there is the possibility for the participation of high school athletics to lead to the preferential treatment for players and the use of unsafe drugs by athletes to keep their performance at a maximum level, these possibilities are not enough to overshadow all of the benefits that come from it. High school sports can be a tool of guidance for adolescents, keeping them focused and on the right path during those four years of time, helping to create a foundation for success along with education. Even after high school, former athletes will have many advantages that can be seen throughout college and in their future careers.