Involvement in sports is the most popular extracurricular activity for high school students. Sports require time and energy, but surprisingly that doesn’t come at the cost of academic performance. Sports participation is associated with higher GPAs, lower dropout rates and stronger commitments to school compared with the average, nonathlete high school student.
Across the United States, approximately 60 percent of all high students play on a school-sponsored sports team, according to a 2015 report by Child Trends. Boys were more likely to play sports than girls. Most school districts have eligibility requirements that require athletes to maintain a certain GPA and avoid absences if they want to play. The team may drop an athlete who performs poorly in the classroom.
In 2009, the average GPA was 3.10 for a female high school graduate and 2.90 for male students. Researchers at Michigan State University determined that students who participated in vigorous sports did 10 percent better in science, English, math and social studies compared with other students. Different studies show various results regarding athlete versus nonathlete GPAs, with some showing athletes having a full point higher GPA than nonathletes.
Gender plays a distinct role in GPA and athletic performance. Female athletes report the highest GPA of all high school students and significantly higher grades than female nonathletes. While both male and female athletes report higher GPAs than nonathletes, the females contribute more to the difference between athletes and nonathletes. Boys, both athletes and nonathletes, tend to have lower grades and cause more school misconduct than girls.
For female athletes, the advantages don’t end with a higher GPA; playing high school sports also increases their odds by 41 percent for graduating from college compared with nonathletes. While black and Hispanic athletes show higher GPAs compared with their nonathletic peers, that doesn’t necessary equal long-term success. These student athletes have lower rates of college attendance and completion compared with white athletes.
- Journal of Sport & Social Issues: Untangling the Links Among Athletic Involvement, Gender, Race, and Adolescent Academic Outcomes
- North Carolina High School Athletic Association: High School Athletes Outperform Nonathletes By Wide Margins In Massive Three-Year Academic Study
- Brigham Young University: Girls + High School Sports = College Graduation
- Baker University: Comparing the Academic Performance of High School Athletes and Non-Athletes in Kansas in 2008-2009
Fitzalan Gorman has more than 10 years of academic and commercial experience in research and writing. She has written speeches and text for CEOs, company presidents and leaders of major nonprofit organizations. Gorman has published for professional cycling teams and various health and fitness websites. She has a Master of Arts from Virginia Tech in political science and is a NASM certified personal trainer.