What is it?
Sports participation interventions engage students in sports as a means to increasing educational engagement and achievement. This might be through organised after school activities or a program organised by a local sporting club or association. Sometimes sporting activity is used as a means to encourage young people to engage in additional learning activities, such as football training at a local football club combined with study skills, ICT, literacy, or mathematics lessons.
How effective is it?
The overall impact of sports participation on academic achievement tends to be positive but low (about two additional months’ progress). However, there is recent evidence from the UK that sports participation can have a larger effect on, for example, mathematics learning when combined with a structured numeracy program (with one study showing an impact of up to ten months' additional progress). In this circumstance the ‘participation’ acted as an incentive to undertake additional instruction.
The variability in effects suggests that the quality of the program and the emphasis on, or connection with, academic learning may make more difference than the specific type of approach or sporting activities involved. Participating in sports and physical activity is likely to have wider health and social benefits.
There remains a limited amount of Australasian studies that seek to link the implementation of after-school or extra-curricular sports with academic outcomes. In Australia, a 2013 review by the University of Melbourne concluded that physical activity could have an indirect impact on academic outcomes, by increasing the likelihood that students were ready to learn. However, it did not find strong evidence of a direct link between physical activity and academic outcomes. The few available studies discuss sports participation in the context of improving students’ physical activity or self-concept/self-worth.
How secure is the evidence?
There have been a number of reviews linking the benefits of participation in sport with academic benefits. There is, however, considerable variation in impact, including some studies which show negative effects. Overall, the evidence is rated as limited.
What are the costs?
Cost estimates vary depending on the sport and number of instructors however costs are estimated at about $400 per year including clothing and equipment for 40 weeks of the year. Costs are therefore estimated as moderate.
What should I consider?
Being involved in extra-curricular sporting activities may increase attendance and retention.
Impact varies considerably between different interventions, and participation in sports does not straightforwardly transfer to academic learning. It is likely that the quality of the program and the emphasis on or connection with academic learning may make more difference than the specific type of approach or activities involved.
Planned extra-curricular activities which include short, regular, and structured teaching in literacy and mathematics (either tutoring or group teaching) as part of a sports program, such as an after school club or summer school, are much more likely to offer academic benefits than sporting activities alone.
If you are considering sports participation as an approach to improving attendance, engagement and achievement, have you considered how you will evaluate the impact?