Participation in School Sports Associated with Higher Earnings, College Attendance

HR & Safety

Scholastic athletics seen as providing valuable work skills

Perhaps you were the starting quarterback or broke a school record for running the fastest mile. Maybe you preferred to face an opponent one-on-one in tennis or had a killer free-throw on the basketball court. Whatever the preference, sports tend to be a prevalent extracurricular activity choice while in school.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of American adults participated in some form of athletic activity throughout their school years, with half (49%) participating in school team sports and 44% taking up other team sports outside of school. Four-in-ten Americans (41%) participated in school sports with both individual and team aspects, while 37% flew solo, participating in individual sports not through school. Over one-quarter (27%) took formal lessons for a sport.

Higher education levels are associated with participation in athletics. Sixty four percent of those who participated in sports went through some level of higher education, compared to just 45% of those who did not participate. They are more likely to have capped off their education with a four-year college degree (20% vs. 14%) compared to those who didn’t participate and are also twice as likely to have some form of post graduate education (12% vs. 6%).

Participation in athletics is also associated with higher incomes. Fifteen percent of adults who participated in athletics have a personal income greater than $100,000, compared to just 9% of those who did not participate. The same is true for household income levels; 28% of those who participated in sports have a household income over $100,000 compared to just 15% of those who did not.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,232 U.S. adults surveyed online between January 14 and 20, 2015. Full results of the study, including data tables, can be found here.

Certain groups are more likely than others to have participated in athletics in school. Men are more likely than women (82% versus 65%) to have participated. Generation wise, the younger one is, the more likely they participated in athletics, as 81% of Millennials and 76% of Generation X participated compared to 67% of Baby Boomers and 63% of Matures.

Most people who participated in athletics did so for at least a few years while in school, and some are still active in a sport. Just 10% of participants completed less than one year in athletics and one-fifth (21%) completed between one and three years. One-quarter (25%) completing three to five years, three-in-ten (29%) completed more than five years, and 9% are still going strong today.

Athletic Participation Scores Personal Fulfillment Points

Among those who participated in an athletic program during their school years, close to one-half (45%) say it was extremely or very influential to their current level of personal fulfillment, with another third (32%) saying it was somewhat influential. Those with some college education or a college degree are more likely to say their athletic participation was extremely or very influential than those with a high school or less education (48% and 56% vs. 37%, respectively).

The longer people stayed involved in an athletic program, the more likely they are to say that participating influenced their current level of personal fulfillment. Among those who participated for less than three years, less than one-quarter (23%) say it was extremely or very influential, while nearly half (47%) of those with 3-5 years of participation say the same. This jumps again when looking at those who participated for more than five years, with over six in ten (63%) sharing this sentiment and over three-quarters (77%) of those still involved say it was very or extremely influential. Overall, just 18% say it was not at all influential.

Gaining Skills on and off The Field

Much more than just learning how to dribble a ball or throw a strike, participation in athletics has the ability to provide various skills that may be needed for success in a job or career. Those who were involved in athletics during school years agree that the skills they learned spanned beyond just those used on the playing field. Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) feel their participation in athletic activities was extremely or very important in providing them with skills to work towards common goals. Similar percentages say it was important in helping them develop skills to strive for individual excellence in a group setting (66%) and to have a disciplined approach to problem solving (65%). Sixty percent each say athletics was important in helping them with flexibility in work situations and creative problem solving.

Interestingly, those involved in athletics for three-plus years are more likely than those who participated for less than three years to say it was very or extremely important in providing them with each of these skills:

  • Working towards common goals: 54% of those involved less than three years vs. 78% or more for those involved at least three years
  • Striving for individual excellence in a group setting: 52% vs. 75% or more
  • Disciplined approach to solving problems: 51% vs. 72% or more
  • Flexibility in work situations: 47% vs. 65% or more
  • Creative problem solving: 47% vs. 61% or more

Additionally, strong majorities of adults agree that the lessons and habits from participating in athletics help individuals later in life. Over eight-in-ten Americans (82%), and 87% of those who participated themselves, agree the lessons and habits from athletics equip people to be better team players in their career. Seventy-eight percent of the general population (and 83% of those who were involved with athletics) say it provides people with a disciplined approach to problem solving, while 77% of adults (and 83% of those who participated) agree it prepares someone to manage the tasks of their job more successfully.

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