Using Data to Show the Link Between Sports Participation and Academic Achievement

“Instead of cutting extracurricular activities during tough budgetary times, school administrators should financially support these activities because they helped students stay in school and succeed academically.”  (Holloway, 1999/2000 as cited in Lumpkin, A., & Favor, J., 2012, p. 58)

In a previous InSideOut blog post, it was detailed how sport practitioners can use data to improve our awareness and better understand and meet the needs of program participants. Supporting the needs of athletes extends well beyond practice and competitions and in to the classroom. A significant body of literature is devoted to the question of after-school sports participation’s effect on academic performance. With infrequent exceptions, research shows athletics will have a positive or neutral impact on academic measures (Trudeau, F., & Shephard, R. J., 2008). In a study of athletes from Kansas, Lumpkin and Favor found “high school athletes earned higher grades, graduated at a higher rate, dropped out of school less frequently, and scored higher on state assessments than did non-athletes” (2012).

As InSideOut leaders we wholeheartedly believe this is true: school-based sports have the power to support classroom learning. But how do we show this is true? Are we examining our own situations and communicating what the data says within our communities? We hear about how participation in sports benefits students’ performance in the classroom, but is this happening in our own buildings? As school-based athletics face increasing pressure on school budgets and short-sighted definitions of what interscholastic sport mean to our schools, it is important to take a closer look at how athletic participation and academic performance are associated.

After hearing reports about sports participation having the potential to improve scholastic outcomes, I began to wonder how our athletes measure up against their peers who do not participate. And, what impact would multiple-sport participation have on grades and attendance rates? What great information this would be to have! I had my guesses, but to get real answers to these questions, I returned to our data. All the information existed; it just needed to be mined. Using data for our entire public high school of almost 700 students (grades 9 – 12), we created a spreadsheet with data fields for participation rates, grade point average, and days absent.

This wasn’t information from an academic study in another part of the country, this was real data from my school’s students…and the results were stunning. For those students who do not play a sport at St. Anthony Village High School, the average GPA is 2.72. For those playing one sport, the average jumped to 3.01, two-sport athletes’ GPAs climbed to 3.31 and our three-sport athletes collectively hold an amazing 3.51 GPA!

The data was equally astounding when applied to days absent:

Acknowledging the results produce correlational data, we know those students who are more connected to our school outperform their peers. Now it is time to get to work finding ways to increase engagement and providing the best experiences possible!

(If you have access to your students’ data and you’re interested in a workbook to see the connection between athletic participation and academic performance in your school, click here.)


Lumpkin, A., & Favor, J. (2012). Comparing the academic performance of high school athletes and non-athletes in Kansas 2008-2009. Journal of Sport Administration and Supervision4(1).

Trudeau, F., & Shephard, R. J. (2008). Physical education, school physical activity, school sports and academic performance. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity5(1), 10.