Study Assesses Sports’ Effects On Schooling

By Michael Newman — September 06, 1989 2 min read

Participation in high-school athletics can encourage some minority and female students to stay in school and give them an appetite for leadership, but it has little effect on their academic achievement or success in later life, according to a new study.

The study, which followed 13,000 student athletes over a six-year period, was released last month by the Women’s Sports Foundation. It represents the most extensive examination to date of the influence of athletics on high-school students, according to Don Sabo, associate professor of sociology at D’Youville College in Buffalo and director of the project.

The report was based on data from “High School and Beyond,” the U.S. Education Department’s longitudinal study of high-school students.

The authors of the study identified a number of “positive” trends for student athletes, but noted that those results were tempered by other, more “disheartening” findings. They found, for example, that:

High-school athletes fare no worse than other students academically. ''The ‘dumb jock’ stereotype is a myth,” acccording to the report.

Participation in athletics was linked to improved academic performance, however, in only 3 of the 18 student groups studied--rural Hispanic females, suburban black males, and rural white males.

Student athletes generally did better than their peers, but “for reasons that lay outside of high-school sport,” the report argued. “These differences were due more to socioeconomic background and previous academic performance than to sport itself.”

All athletes reported feeling more popular than did other students, and some groups of athletes were more likely to want to go on to college or to become “community leaders.”

But the report also found that participation in high-school sports “did little to further the higher educational gains of minority youth,’' and “exerted no significant positive influence” on minorities entering the labor force after high school.

For black urban females, the employment picture was especially bleak. In this group, 59 percent of former students who were not athletes held “high status” jobs, such as management trainees, clerks, and secretaries, but only 5 percent of former athletes did. In addition, only 19 percent of former athletes expressed high job expectations, as against 50 percent of other former students.

Some high-school athletes, particularly those in rural and suburban areas, were less likely to drop out of school than other students. But participation in sports had no effect on the dropout rate of urban students.

The report also contained policy proposals developed in collaboration with Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society.

Among its recommendations were that schools raise academic standards for participation in sports, develop special programs for students with a chance of winning college athletic scholarships, and provide improved career counseling for athletes.

Copies of “Minorities in Sports” are available for $3 each from the Women’s Sports Foundation, 342 Madison Ave., Suite 728, New York, N.Y. 10173.

A version of this article appeared in the September 06, 1989 edition of Education Week as Study Assesses Sports’ Effects On Schooling