Youth Sports and Academic Achievement

10/31/2012 10:17 am ET Updated Dec 31, 2012

The LA84 Foundation some years ago held a series of focus groups with high school students to gauge their attitudes about sports. One of the topics we discussed was why some students choose not to play sports. We were surprised by one of the reasons students gave us: some students and some parents believe that playing sports will hurt a kid's grades and generally pull him or her away from school.

This surprised us because we knew that just the opposite is true. The dumb jock myth simply doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Students who play sports have higher grades and graduate from high school at a higher rate than their non-athlete peers. Yes, there are exceptions to this general claim, but the overall picture is quite clear.

For a half century, researchers in sociology, psychology, economics, sport management, kinesiology and education have investigated the connection between high school sports and academic achievement. As a report commissioned by the LA84 Foundation and written by Douglas Hartmann of the University of Minnesota found, the "research has time and again demonstrated a strong and positive correlation between high school sports participation and academic achievement. This basic, baseline finding holds for a wide variety of measures and on a whole range of data sets, methodological approaches, and social conditions."

Because there are so many variables in the lives of young people, the specific reasons for this correlation have proven difficult to determine. We need to know more about how we can encourage and strengthen the connection. We also need to know the extent to which the positive outcomes associated with high school sports extend to middle and elementary school sports participants. In a nation suffering from an epidemic of school dropouts, these are important questions.

To address these and related questions the LA84 Foundation will host a national summit on November 8 that pulls together a national panel of experts who can discuss the issue from a variety of perspectives. The Foundation's website and Facebook will report on the summit's findings. I will do the same through this blog in coming weeks.