The academic benefits of team sport

The results of a fascinating US study into 9,700 high-school students aged 14-18 are reported in this week’s Times Educational Supplement in the UK: according to research conducted by academics from the University of South Carolina and Pennsylvania State University, participation in team sports during adolescence makes a “significant and consistent difference to students’ academic grades”. In fact, they report that teams sport is the only extra-curricular activity that consistently has this effect, and while those of us in schools can attest to the fact that many other extra-curricular activities can have a similar effect on individuals we have known, this finding is really interesting.

The study was a wide-ranging one, looking at correlations between a variety of extra-curricular activities and the success in other areas of school life enjoyed by teenagers who participate in them. It looked too at the likelihood of progress on to tertiary education. It can be hard to identify trends that are meaningful when dealing with students from different socio-economic backgrounds, different geographical locations, and different genders and ethnicity; moreover, every individual is precisely that – an individual – and will have his or her own motivations and triggers for success. The fact, therefore, that these researchers have found a consistent correlation is really important.

Why should team sport have such an effect on grades? There are many reasons, ranging from fitness (healthy body, healthy mind) to the discipline and focus needed to train and prepare. Skills learned in one sphere of life can transfer to another; we all understand this – sport is no different in this respect. And the benefits of team sport go further – team sport teaches awareness of others, leadership, the ability to co-operate … it also encourages mentorship and the setting of one’s sights high. All of these are essential characteristics for success in the world of work.

We probably didn’t need this research to tell us that team sport is an essential part of the education of young people; it does, however, give a boost to all those teenagers currently engaged in team sport. Well done to them for making such a great choice!


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