Bartmoni/Wikimedia Commons
Source: Bartmoni/Wikimedia Commons

The link between athletics and academic performance continues to be a topic of considerable debate. Some educators see sports as contributing to academic achievement. They argue that student-athletes need to meet eligibility requirements and are thus motivated to work in the classroom. Others believe that sport participation decreases grades because young athletes are over burdened with practices and games. As a result, they don’t have time to focus on schoolwork.

I strongly doubt that having children and adolescents play sports will make them better students. Conversely, athletic participation does not automatically transform kids into “dumb jocks.”

Should poor grades keep a youngster from playing sports?

There’s no simple answer to this question, but two different perspectives should be considered.

  • All children and youth need vigorous physical activity as part of their daily lives, and sports provide the benefits of exercise and the potential for acquiring a sense of accomplishment. If athletes are having trouble in the classroom, sports may be an important avenue of success in their lives, so it could be harmful to take it away. In fact, when youngsters feel a sense of success in athletics, this can enhance their self-esteem that carries over to other areas, including academics.
  • On the other hand, practices and games can be time robbers from schoolwork. When sport-related demands become excessive, it might be in the youngster’s best interest to disallow participation.

What should parents do if their young athlete is having trouble keeping grades up?

  • Start by looking for other causes of poor classroom performance. For example, too much TV-watching might be one problem. Conflicts with other duties, such as a job, might be another cause.
  • Parents should ask their kids what they can do to help them improve in school. Plus, input should be sought from coaches, teachers, and school counselors.
  • In some cases, the family and school may decide that a youngster is not studying enough. In these situations, it’s reasonable to make sport participation dependent upon achieving better grades.

Do you want to learn more about parenting young athletes?

  • The Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports is a research-based video that emphasizes skill development, achieving personal and team success, giving maximum effort, and having fun.
  • To access the video, go to the Youth Enrichment in Sports website.

About the Authors

Ronald Smith

Ronald Smith, Ph.D., is a University of Washington clinical sport psychologist who specializes in developing and evaluating interventions designed to improve the functioning of athletes.

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