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How Do Sports Affect School Life?

Do I have time for that? This is the famous question of a student’s high school career, when they start to realize their interest in sports that require a time commitment, but also start to realize that school is difficult and requires a large amount of their time. So do you have time for that thing you want to do?  

There is yet another question to ask yourself: will it be beneficial to me? Participation in sports undoubtedly has many benefits in terms of character and skill, but does it affect performance in school?

In a study conducted by the University of Kansas, over 97% of high school students participating in sports graduated high school, which is 10% more than those not in sports. The students in sports also had higher G.P.A.s (Grade Point Averages) than those not in sports, in general.

There are several more studies proving similar points, for example, a study at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (Carlos III University of Madrid), which applies these points to college students. The study was performed on 3,671 students who began undergraduate degree programs starting in 2008 and finished degrees pre-2015. University students who participated in sports sometime in their academic career achieved 9.3% higher G.P.A.s than those who did not.  

”Although there are previous studies that have indicated that taking part in sports activities has a negative effect on academic performance, the most commonly accepted belief is that the impact of sports is far from being negative and is, in fact, remarkably positive,” says the author of the study and Associate Professor of the Business Organization at the university, María José Sánchez Bueno.

“Our final results show that participation in regular, official physical-sports activity positively affects the academic performance of UC3M students,” the study concludes.

I am sure that by now, you are walking straight down to the gym to tryout for this season’s sports. It sounds perfect, doesn’t it? You get the best of both worlds, participation in something you actually want to do AND better grades! Well, it isn’t that simple.  

A study conducted by the Women’s Sports Foundation, titled “Minorities in Sports”, came back with some disappointing results. This study found that participation in high school sports has almost no instant effect on academic success, and affects college success and success in the workplace even less. The study also seemed to show that participation in sports only leads to four-year college attendance in certain racial and gender groups.

The inconsistency in the results of this study doesn’t help us much, now does it? Of course results are going to be different when entirely different groups of people are studied each time. So, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I interviewed a few athletes at our very own Shaker High School to see how school and sports are connected in our school environment.  

I asked a series of questions related to grades, sports, and everything in between.  Included in these questions were topics such as stress, priorities, and commitment. All three people I interviewed told me that grades are a priority for them.

As I looked at the answers I received, I noticed a striking difference between the answers I received from a freshman and the answers I received from seniors.

Hannah Malicki, a senior who plays volleyball and basketball both in and out of school, says that her average stress level on a weekday is a 4/10, and on weekends her stress level is a 1/10. Malicki has practice for two hours a day. She cannot miss, or there are consequences.  She also has games about twice a week. Similarly, Lexi Ratigan, a senior who plays volleyball, basketball, and softball says her average stress level on a weekday is a 3/10, and a 2/10 on weekends. Ratigan also has practices for about two hours, and she cannot miss them. She has games 2-3 times a week.

“I’m okay where I’m at right now,” says Ratigan.

Istan Slamet, a freshman who participates in cross country in the fall, indoor track in the winter, and a soccer club outside of school, says his average stress level on a weekday is a 6-7/10, and a 3-4/10 on weekends. He typically has practices for an hour and a half and tries to make practices 5 days a week. He explains that cross country is a high commitment and it is difficult to be late or miss a practice. Track meets happen at least once a week. His soccer club is very low commitment, and he typically has games on Saturdays. He also has tournaments during the late fall and spring at least once a month which go on throughout the entire weekend.  When I asked about how happy he was with the balance of his life at the moment, he seemed to be less satisfied than the seniors.

“I’d like to do better with my grades and my sports, but I’d also like some more time for myself,” he told me. “Unfortunately those two don’t go together.”

The correlation between stress levels and grade level is proven even more when Malicki states, “Since it’s senior year, [managing stress] has been easier. But in the past, it’s been harder because there’s a lot going on.”

Both seniors I interviewed confidently answered that they don’t have much homework this year, and both leave school early.

So, you’re confident about being able to commit to a sport that you love to play, but you are also thinking about what will look good to colleges. Should you take that honors course?  Based on my interview with Lexi Ratigan, you may want to take that chance.

Ratigan takes AP Calculus, AP Environmental Science, and Honors Economics. Still, she claims that she doesn’t get stressed. Harvard, here we come!

Now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. I presented a question to the interviewees on how they think participation in sports affects the quality of their schoolwork and grades.  Here’s what they told me.

“I think [my sports] affect [my grades] positively because I have less time to do things so I am more motivated to get them done,” says Ratigan.

Malicki, on the other hand, responded differently when I asked her whether she thinks her sports affect her grades positively or negatively.

“I don’t think either because when you’re an athlete you have to have good grades,” she says.

Does pressure make one more motivated than they would be without it? I’ll let Istan Slamet answer this question for us. He tells us that his sports affect his schoolwork negatively because it gives him less time for completion, but has another point to make.

“…it also gives me a sense of urgency to complete my work quickly and with at least some quality,” he says. “When my sport is not in season I tend to slack off every now and then, using the time I didn’t have before to relax. Sometimes that affects my work and grades negatively, but overall there’s at least a little bit of improvement since I can ease up and do my work with better quality.”

Istan seems to believe that his participation in sports affects his schoolwork both positively and negatively.

I also asked the athletes if they are able to complete as much work as they intend to. Hannah Malicki tells me that she is typically able to do as much work as she intends to, but has to stay up late to study about once a week. Istan also seems to have some trouble with studying. He tells me that he can usually complete his homework, but gets a limited amount of time to study. As for Lexi Ratigan, she tells me she can always get things done and believes the reason for this is that she gets out of school at around eleven A.M. or twelve P.M. each day, so she has time to complete assignments and study.

Overall, the results of both my research and the interviews I completed were mixed.  Levels of stress, consistency of effort towards school, and levels of commitment will obviously vary from person to person. However, there is some very compelling scientific evidence proving how sports can benefit students in school.

Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, therefore increasing the amount of endorphins, or the “happy hormone”, released. These endorphins affect mood and work ethic positively. The Canadian Fitness Research Institute also states that physical activity provides a short period of relaxation with the ability to improve memory, problem solving skills, and increase creativity. It can also improve mood.

So, if you’re passionate about a sport but you are unsure about whether to try it, go for it!  You never know where it may take you.

As a wise man once said, “Don’t be afraid of failure. This is the way you succeed”. (Lebron James).