Achievement in sport and academics

Posted: March 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

Last week my topic was girls in Sport and PE, delving deep into the controversy surrounding sport and females. This week my blog topic will be about achievement in sports and education.

Achievement, motivation and academic

Ego orientation, task affecting motivation and sports competence in youths, whereas highly motivated youths tend to participate in more sporting activities, low motivation leads to low sport participation, especially in females (Fox et al, 1994). Low motivation levels and sports participation highly correlates to students showing signs of self-defeating ego orientation, affecting achievement and self-perception (Skaalvik, 1997).


These are worrying signs and shows links between academic achievement and motivational factors. If students are not motivated and do not participate in sporting activities, they are the most at risk of failing in school achievement.

One big motivating factor in America are sports scholarships available students.  Fisher et al (1996) research suggested that 35% of American high school students regard sports as a more important than high school academics subjects. This was a significant finding, and which was consistent with the amount of students believing they would receive a University sports scholarship (52% male, 20% female). The findings are worrying. More youths are putting education second best to sports, with many having unrealistic expectations of their future of receiving a high school scholarship. Unlike the studies discussed before (Fox, 1994; Skaalvik, 1997), the findings showed no association to sports involvement and academic performance. Taras (2005) found similar findings to Fisher. Although there are definitive short term gains to be had from physical activity due to concentration, no long term effects could be found following intensive sporting activity.

Suggestions from Fisher is that sport has no effect on academic achievement, although and give students unrealistic goals for sports participation and scholarships. Further research suggests not. Yiannakis and Melnick (2001) investigating in a longitudinal study on 10th graders with many variables controlled for including student background and eighth grade academic measures. The findings from this research contradicts the main research of Fisher (1996) of no association between sport and academic studies, finding a relationship between grades, self identity and education targets with sports participation. Yiannakis et al (2001) also found males, higher socio-economic background students, type of school attended (small or private), and private sport clubs contributed to the likeliness of sports participation in high school sports.


So far… we can see there are more positives than negatives to sports with a ratio of 3 (Fox, 1994; Skaalvik, 1997; Yiannis, 2001) to 2 (Fisher, 1996; Taras, 2005) for and against the effects on sports on academic achievement. We can therefore tell that this will be the trend throughout research, although Fisher (1996) did focus on the level of expectancy of students to receive a scholarship (concentrating upon this and the misjudgements in ability students have made) which can only be generalised to the US for the majority as billions of Dollars is spent on sports in the US (Sitkowski, 2008).

Just to finish on this topic I thought I would add a little blast from the past from Coach Carter!

Role theory on Sports participation and academic work:

Many stereotypes have been given to sporty people over the given years, for example “dumb jock”, this has made it easier for these students to prioritise athletics above academics as teachers lowered the expectations of these students within the taught subject (Sitkowski, 2008). As shown by Adler and Adler (1991) with the role theory, student athletes tend to engage in more athletic roles (role engulfment) and minimal amount of academic work (role abandonment). This again shows the negativity sports has upon academic performance which I can relate to, and I’m sure some of the readers can too.


For the past three years I have competed in BUCS, and all through my second year I had a lecture on a Wednesday, conflicting with my sport. With the role theory, I therefore role engulfed my tennis, and abandoned my academic role in order to fulfil my priority, sports.  Although this year I have been lucky enough not to have any lectures/ exams clash with BUCS, it just shows to what extent I would prioritise a sporting activity in comparison to my education, which has astounded me and I am sure I am not the only person ever to do this.

Role strain is another theory, occurring in any extracurricular activity (including sports), and academics. Goode (1960) found that student athletes will experience role strains because of the competing time and energy demands of both academic and sports roles on that individual, suggesting that time is predominantly consumed and may affect on and other.  Contradicting research to this by Marks (1977) found that students could juggle both as long as they are committed to each activity, and not predominantly just one, using time management to limit conflict between them.

To Conclude


In conclusion this week I have found a very broad and conflicting topic with many issues still needing to be addressed. We can see that low motivation and participation in sport has been proven to affect academic performance a low self ego, majorly in females (Fox, 1994; Skaalvik, 1997; Yiannkis).  Stereotypes (Sitkowski, 2008) Scholarships can have an affect on academic success with many feeling they will achieve the criteria of having a college scholarship, which can misguide them in deeming sport more important than academic achievement (Fisher et al, 1996; Sitkowski, 2008). Also there in some cases only concentration can be accounted for as an improvement in relation to sport and achievement (Taras, 2005). Role theory is present in sport as many perceive academic as a lower priority (abandonment) as compared to sport (engulfment) and shows the negative influences of sports (Adler and Adler, 1991). Role strain can occur within academics and sport (Goode, 1960) however time management techniques and equality can address this issue! (Marks, 1977)


My opinion on this matter is biased towards sports. This is a big issue with no definitive answer and no right or wrong as all the research suggests, it is down to the individual at the end of the day. Some aspects are good, some are bad, but all that has been discussed relates to most of us!


Thanks for reading.




Adler, P. A., & Adler, E (1991). Backboards and blackboards: College athletes and role engulfment. New York: Columbia University Press.

Fisher, M., Juszczak, L., & Friedman, S.B. (1996). Sports participation in an urban high school: Academic and psychologic correlates. Journal of Adolescent Health, 18(5), 329-34.

Fox, K. et al. (1994) Children’s task and ego goal profiles in sport. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 64 (2), p.253-261.

Goode, W. J. (1960). A theory of role strain. American Sociological Review, 25, 483- 496.

Marks, S. R. (1977). Multiple roles and role strain: Some notes on human energy, time and commitment. American Sociological Review, 42(6), 921-936.

Sitkowski, L. (2008) The Effects of Participation in Athletics on Academic Performance among High School Sophomores and Juniors. Libery University

Skaalvik, E. (1997) Self-enhancing and self-defeating ego orientation: Relations with task and avoidance orientation, achievement, self-perceptions, and anxiety.. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89 (1), p.71-81.

Taras, H. (2005). Physical activity and student performance at school. Journal of School Health, 75(6), 214-218.

Yiannakis, A., & Melnick, M. (2001). Contemporary issues in sociology of sport. NewYork: Human Kinetics.

  1. liamjw91 says:

    Great blog, you mention how students place sports as being more important than academic subjects. A potential reason for this is through reinforcement from peers. Hallinan and Williams (1990) found that students educational aspirations are strongly determined by their peers. However during school sporting achievments are heralded more by peers than academic achievements which explains why students are motivated more by sporting goals than academic goals.

  2. psuc18 says:

    Hi David!

    You mention that low motivation and participation in sport has been proven to affect academic performance. I came across a physical education program called SPARK conducted by Sallis, McKenzie, Alcaraz, Kolody, Faucette & Hovell in 1997. They argued that improved physical education classes can potentially benefit up to 97% of elementary school students thus supporting the argument that you make.

    Future research on the SPARK project was conducted by Sallis, McKenzie, Kolody, Lewis, Marshall & Rosengard (1999). They found that health-related physical education had favourable effects on students’ academic achievement. This again supports the point that you make about the correlation of physical activity and higher academic performance.

    I agree with you that physical activity does increase one’s motivation to perform better and therefore I believe that future research should increase the evidence based on this correlation between PE and academic achievement in order to inform schools and hopefully generate this idea into the classrooms.


    Sallis, J. F., McKenzie, T. L., Alcaraz, J. E., Kolody, B., Faucette, N., Hovell, M. F. (1997). The effects of a 2-year physical education program (SPARK) on physical activity and fitness in elementary school students. Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids. American Journal of Public Health. 87(8), 1328-1334.

    Sallis, J. F., McKenzie, T. L., Kolody, B., Lewis, M., Marshall, S., Rosengard, P. (1999). Effects of Health-Related Physical Education on Academic Achievement: Project SPARK. The American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. 70(2), 127-134.

  3. te9192 says:

    I love the reference to Coach Carter (it is one of my favourite films, and now really want to watch it rather than work…) but it got me thinking that maybe this aim of a College Sports Scholarship may be the only way these individuals will be able to afford to go to college, and may act as a form of motivation itself to work at the academic side of school to reach the standard they need to be (kind of like in the film). It has been suggested that self-determined types of motivation (identified regulation, integrated regulation and intrinsic motivation) were related to concentration and positive emotions to attending classes, academic satisfaction, grades, and also future intentions of schooling (Ntoumanis, 2001), so linking the motivation to take part in sport to carrying on their academic schooling due to this sporting ability.

    Ntoumanis, N. (2001). A self‐determination approach to the understanding of motivation in physical education. British journal of educational psychology, 71(2), 225-242. Retrieved from

  4. suzzzblog says:

    Really thorough and clear blog, like others have said I too loved the reference to Coach Carter! However, there are a couple of issues that come to my mind in particular. The first is that although you do mention positives to sport and education, I feel like perhaps you take more of a negative stance? For example when you say that you yourself prioritized tennis over a Wednesday lecture, choosing sport over education. While this may have been unavoidable, personally, I think that playing sports helps academic achievement no end. Yes you may miss a lecture, but the psychological and physical benefits in my opinion are far more important.
    Education is obviously important to an individual, however we must also think of the welfare of that individual. Clinical depression affects more people than we know, and one of the key pieces of advice given to those suffering it is to exercise, especially in a social environment. It is also emphasized that education can be re-done, but a person’s health and well-being are vital.
    Exercising in a social way increases endorphins (Harber & Sutton, 1984), a chemical vital for mood state changes and ‘exercise-induced euphoria’, but also for altered pain perception and even stress responses of numerous hormones (I won’t list these because then it gets too scientific!).
    Not only this, but exercising in a social way (ie in sports teams) builds and increases friendships, which will make an individual happier and therefore more productive academically (Suldo, Riley & Shaffer, 2006). It also raises self-esteem in an individual, a sense of achievement.
    I could go on for ages about this, but I won’t! I believe that although academic achievement and education are obviously important for an individual, the health of that individual (both physically and psychologically) are far more important. Playing sport has been shown to have a strong positive effect on the health of an individual (again both physically and psychologically), which in turn has been shown to positively affect a student’s academic achievement. Ie, the happier the student, the better they perform academically. Therefore, although academia is important, sport must definitely be encouraged.

    – Endorphins and exercise. (Harber & Sutton, 1984).
    – Academic correlates of children and adolescents’ life satisfaction. (Suldo, Riley & Shaffer, 2006).

  5. I think that you need to consider alternating intelligence’s among individuals. This question between academics and sports is one that can be solved when you consider that individuals have different strengths. Of course you know that some of us are more academically inclined and others are more sporty. If you look at Gardners (1995) theory of multiple intelligent he outlines a specific intelligence as kinetic intelligence, which refers to physical or sport-like intelligence. Personally I believe that this kind of intelligence needs to be accepted in schools and education. I dont think it should be devalued as a legitimate cause of motivation.

    Gardner, H. (1995) Reflections on Multiple Intelligences: Myths and Messages

  6. psuce says:

    Hi Dave, this is a very interesting read. In a study by Carlson et al (2008) they examined the association between time spent in physical education and academic achievement in a longitudinal study of students in primary schools throughout their time in year 5. The results showed a small significant benefit for academic achievement in maths and reading for girls who enrolled in 35 minutes per week of physical education. However the amount of physical education wasn’t positively or negatively associated with academic achievement among boys. This shows us how physical education is beneficial for learning and how it may benefit girls more so than boys.

    Susan A. Carlson, Janet E. Fulton, Sarah M. Lee, L. Michele Maynard, David R. Brown, Harold W. Kohl, III, William H. Dietz. (2008) Physical Education and Academic Achievement in Elementary School: Data From the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. American Journal of Public Health 98:4, 721-727

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