Students can excel on the court and in the classroom

February 21, 2005|by ROSE RENNEKAMP

"Sports taught me a lot about sacrifice, obedience, love and dedication." That's what actor/comedian Bernie Mac says he learned from baseball, football, basketball and boxing when he was a teenager. Mac is just one of dozens of famous men and women who are quoted in a new book, "The Games Do Count" by Brian Kilmeade.

High school sports take a lot of time for students, but they can have a positive impact on a student's high school grades and overall enjoyment of school. If your student is on a team, you might worry that spending time away from books and homework is a bad thing, but it can have many benefits for your teen.

A recent report from the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) examined the benefits of high school athletics for the "whole" student. Its findings are very encouraging for students and parents trying to decide what's important - sports or the books.


In a nutshell, students can have both.

Any high school coach will tell you all about how their players benefit from participating in sports. Student-athletes learn teamwork, discipline and time management. The NASBE report cited these benefits and more, including the social benefits of learning to work with others, the development of self-confidence and the value of hard work. When you win and lose games, you also learn how to deal with, as they used to say on TV, "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."

Athletes also receive the health benefits of an active lifestyle. With the rise of obesity in children and teens, sports can get students motivated to drop the video game controller or the computer keyboard and put their bodies, not just their thumbs and fingers, into action. An hour of practice each day is close to the amount recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General for healthy kids.

A result from the NASBE report that may be more surprising to parents is that athletics don't appear to harm a student's academic performance. In fact, ACT scores for the high school graduating class of 2004 show that female students who participated in varsity athletics had an average score of 21.4, compared to 20.4 for those who didn't participate. That one point is a significant difference on the 36-point ACT score scale. Male students scored about the same regardless of their athletic participation - male athletes averaged 21.1 versus 21.2 for nonathletes. The results for each of the past three years showed similar results.

While you can't say that participating in athletics actually causes students to perform better in class, the results are interesting. It could be partially due to the fact that many states and schools have rules requiring that student-athletes meet certain grade or attendance requirements. Grade requirements vary from a minimum GPA for each grading period to a specific number of courses passed in order for a student to participate in athletics. Many schools also require "regular attendance" for athletes to be able to participate in practices and games. That can vary from a mandatory attendance percentage to attendance on the day of a game or practice.

A woman I know played soccer throughout high school. She told me she would never miss a day of school during soccer season - no matter what. At her high school, if athletes missed one day during the week, they were ineligible to play in any games for the next seven days. She said the attendance requirement meant she took showing up to school much more seriously than some of her nonathletic classmates.

Participating in athletics may not be right for every student. But the results from the ACT data and the NASBE report show that if students want to play sports, and they're keeping up with their studies, the combination could produce a student who is healthier, more focused and more connected with their school. For most parents, that is a very sweet victory.

Rose Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT. Have a question you want answered in a future column? Send an e-mail to

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