Strong Athletes, Smart Students: The Impact of Teens’ Sports Participation on Academics


Research is the centerpiece of the work we do at the Women’s Sports Foundation. From deep dives into female athlete participation and leadership at the Olympic and Paralympic Games to examinations of gender gaps in coaching, for 35 years the WSF has conducted research critical to our organizational mission and vision. And on the bedrock of these findings, we have created and supported programs to provide the health, education, social skills and leadership benefits that girls need to succeed in life.

One of these important research studies is Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters. Released in January of 2018, “Teen Sport” is the first report to offer in-depth analysis into how the type of sport and number of sports that teens play impacts their health and well-being — in order to identify opportunities to improve access to high quality sports programming for teen girls.

This report builds on previous research and policy showing that athletic participation has a favorable influence on girls’ academic achievement, psychological well-being and physical health. It digs deeper by looking at the little-studied question of whether adolescent health and educational success vary from sport to sport. And finally, the report identifies the unique benefits and opportunities for improvement that exist within each sport to maximize the health benefits for teens.

Let’s take a closer look at the report’s major findings centered on the positive academic benefits that come from sports participation.

Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters + Academics

  • Sports participation is directly related to teens having a more positive attitude toward school work, improved academic performance and higher grades.
  • Previous research has shown that these academic factors are important predictors of future educational attainment and occupational success.
  • For measures of truancy, skipping class, and absence due to illness, researchers identified no statistically significant differences between athletes and non-athletes.
  • Sports participation is directly related to higher aspirations for earning a college degree and post-college education specialization.
  • Significantly higher percentages of athletes studied reported that they aspired to and “definitely will” graduate from a four-year college, and aspired to and “definitely will” attend professional or graduate school after college.
  • Compared to non-athletes, a larger percentage of sport participants reported earning an average grade of “A” in school and rated themselves as “above average” on school ability and intelligence.

Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters + Academics, Sport Specific

  • In academic achievement and attainment, the likelihood of benefitting from sports participation increased with the number of sports in which youth participated.
  • Among all 20 sports studied, track and field stood out as having the highest percentages of youth who excelled academically. Track and field youth more often reported high academic achievement and positive academic self-concepts than other student-athletes. Further, Track and field youth also held high aspirations and expectations of graduating from a four-year college and attaining additional education post-graduation than all other youth.
  • Lower percentages of track and field youth skipped class, skipped school, or experienced absences due to illness compared to youth in the other sports studied.
  • A greater percentage of youth participants from tennis, cross country, and soccer also excelled academically. These athletes were more likely to report having an average grade of an “A” in school and expectations to graduate from a four-year college.

To find out how your sport fared and for all Teen Sport in America resources, including an organization toolkit, executive summary and fact sheet, please visit here.

A complete listing of all Women’s Sports Foundation research here.