The typical argument against any extracurricular activity is that it interferes with studying and therefore causes mediocre or poor grades. Sports can especially consume much of a student’s time and energy at the expense of studying. Critics argue that students who pursue athletic goals are less likely to pursue academic objectives, such as a higher education degree. However, there is ample evidence showing that playing sports does not cause a decline in academic achievement. In fact, many research studies strongly suggest that playing sports positively enhances academic progress.
Improves Focus and Cognition
One research study found that the more time a student spent playing a sport, the better they understood the classroom and homework material. Vigorous exercise improves blood flow to the brain, thereby improving alertness and intellectual functions, such as thinking and learning, decision-making and processing information. Compared to sedentary students, physically active students are 20 percent more likely to earn top marks in math, science and English. Moreover, high school student athletes are more likely to attend college and earn a degree than their counterparts.
Improves Attendance and GPAs
From a 2012 study of 35,000 student athletes, the Los Angeles Unified School District found a significant correlation between a student’s participation in high school sports and his or her attendance record and GPA. On the average, student athletes were present in school about three weeks more per year than non-athletes and boasted higher grade point averages by as much as 0.55 to 0.74 points. These statistics are amazing given that students go to school about 180 days per year and GPAs are generally based on a four-point scale.
Some critics argue that if student-athlete GPAs are higher than that of non-athletes, it’s because a minimum grade point average is required to play sports, and students who wish to do so strive to achieve that GPA. In other words, the higher grades are due to minimum GPA requirements, not the physiological effects of playing sports. This may be true, but still the bottom line is that playing sports generally leads to better grades.
Improves Standardized Test Scores
Several research studies indicate that, on the average, physically fit students perform better on standardized tests than students in less-than-ideal physical shape. For example, during the 2007-2008 school year, researchers analyzed state standardized test results from nearly 2.5 million Texas students between the ages of 8 and 18. The analyses revealed a strong link between a student’s level of physical fitness and his or her performance on standardized tests, despite there being no incentive to achieve a certain score on these types of tests.
Increases Self Esteem and Ambition
Participation in interscholastic sports can generally help student athletes perform better academically in comparison with non-athletes. In addition to improving cognitive function, playing sports helps students develop emotional ties with their community and elevates their self esteem. Student athletes work hard on the field and in the classroom to gain and maintain the approval of their teammates, coaches, parents and teachers. Playing sports can also help students gain college approval, as academic admission standards require a minimum GPA, minimum SAT or ACT score and a well-rounded high school background.