Frequently noted benefits of kids' involvement in sports and physical education include improved fitness and lower risk of obesity. Although not mentioned as often, research increasingly points to academic benefits for kids who have some regular physical activity. Additionally, it's important to note that this advantage is not limited to kids taking part in organized, competitive sports.
Howell Wechsler, director of the Division of Adolescent and School Health for the Centers for Disease Control, reviewed 50 studies that examined the effect of school-based physical activity on academic performance and discovered that half of the studies showed positive associations and virtually none of the research demonstrated any negative impact. Multiple studies demonstrated that even relatively short spans of physical activity helped increase the duration and intensity of concentration following such activities, including those in which the students never left the classroom.
Fitness and Test Scores
A study by James Pivarnik and colleagues at the American College of Sports Medicine discovered that middle-school students who performed best on fitness tests -- gauging aerobic capacity, strength, endurance and body composition -- also performed better academically. The study, which included 317 students, showed that the fittest kids scored nearly 30 percent higher on standardized tests than the least-fit group. Moreover, the less-fit students received grades in their core subjects that were 13 percent to 20 percent lower than their fitter classmates.
Demands of Sports
Writing on the website Oregon Live.com, Wendy Owen observes that students who play on sports teams learn leadership skills, responsibility, discipline and time management skills that carry over into the classroom. She quotes high school football player Zack Hickman, who points out that his sport requires to him to use his head and demands that he's always learning from his experiences on the field -- feeding expectations and habits in school.
For some students, sports can provide motivation for improved academic performance. Tom Welter, executive director of the Oregon School Activities Association, concedes that not all athletes are natural students; however, the grade requirements to stay eligible and play the sport they love drives them to overcome obstacles in the classroom and improve performance, establishing a work ethic that can serve them well for as long as they remain in an academic setting.