Why Are High School Sports Important? 10 Benefits for Teens

Updated June 17, 2022
girls softball team celebrating

It's not easy to get to all the games, practices, and tournaments associated with high school sports, but parents should rest assured their dedication is well worth it in the end. Why are high school sports important? There are several reasons. In addition to the obvious physical benefits of being physically active, sports can be an important part of the high school experience and help prepare students for success later in life. Discover ten key benefits of playing sports in high school and support your teens as they seek to decide if participating in school sports is right for them.

Build a Foundation of Fitness for Life

It's somewhat obvious that physical fitness is a benefit of sports. Not only do sports benefit students' physical fitness levels while they are high school athletes, but playing sports during secondary school can help set kids up on a lifelong course of physical fitness. In a study published by BioMedical Central, researchers noted that people who played youth sports in high school were most likely to engage in physical activity as senior citizens. In that sense, consider high school sports an investment in your child's lifetime health.

Improve Health Outcomes

Fitness is an important health-related benefit of participation in high school sports, but it's not the only one. Research published in the International Journal of Cardiovascular Research indicates that sports participation during adolescence can lead to positive health outcomes throughout life, especially when people sustain their physical activity levels into adulthood. Not only does participation in sports improve overall well-being, but it can also reduce the risk of developing some types of health conditions. For example, sports participation is linked to a reduced risk of developing conditions like Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity, as well as a reduced risk of death associated with cardiovascular disease.

Achieve Better Academic Outcomes

Participation in sports can help improve academic performance. Most schools have a GPA requirement in order to participate on a school team. For some kids, this fact motivates them to study hard. Additionally, regular exercise can also improve memory and increase focus. In a study published in the Journal of School Health, researchers found that physical activity and participation in sports improved girls' academic performance, and that being part of a sports team did the same for boys. Sports had a positive overall correlation with academics. Researchers at the University of Sydney also found such a positive correlation. Their study indicated that sports activities held during school hours had the most powerful impact on academic outcomes.

Coach standing with basketball team

Experience Increased Mental Acuity

Kids who participate in sports stay physically fit as a result of playing, practicing, and conditioning. This regular activity can improve their mental acuity. As Harvard Medical School notes, regular exercise can help stave off cognitive decline. While most high schoolers aren't too concerned about Alzheimer's, Scientific American notes that the chemicals released during exercise improve focus and short-term memory. A study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health indicates that exercise can also improve long-term memory. These positive brain-boosting benefits serve to help your kids ace that test.

Stave Off Depression

Researchers and health experts generally agree that exercise helps ease symptoms of depression. Exercise releases endorphins and helps people focus on something other than their troubles. However, according to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, participation in school sports specifically (as opposed to other forms of exercise), seems to help stave off depression from adolescence into adulthood. Adults who once participated in high school sports reported lower depression symptoms, perceived a lower amount of stress, and even reported feeling mentally healthier than those who did not participate in sports.

Build Leadership Skills

Having to work together in a group toward a common goal is one way to help build leadership skills, which will help high schoolers succeed not only academically, but in extracurricular activities and beyond high school in college and/or the world of work. According to an article in the Frontiers in Psychology Journal, participation in school sports develops both the formal and informal leadership capabilities of student athletes. Further, teachers recognize leadership skills as one of the most valuable ways organized sports activities can benefit students.

Develop Teamwork Skills

Not only do teens build leadership abilities through their participation in team sports, but they also develop important teamwork skills. They develop key skills, such as how to be a good team member, how to work collaboratively with fellow teammates, and how to prioritize the needs of the team. As The Ohio State University points out, the teamwork skills that student athletes gain as a result of sports participation will transfer into other aspects of their life in which teamwork is required, such as in the workplace.

Football players cheering in game

Strengthen Social Skills

Teamwork and social skills tend to go hand in hand. It stands to reason that if you have to work with a team of people as well as spend time listening to someone give you directions and execute those directions, your social IQ is going to go up. That's exactly what researchers found when they looked at students who participated in sports and other after-school clubs. Edutopia points out that sports participation helps teens develop and improve key social skills, including the ability to communicate effectively, set (and achieve) goals, make decisions, and manage their time. Sports participation can also boost teens' self-esteem and help foster a sense of community spirit and loyalty.

Establish Strong Social Relationships

Participating in high school sports can help teens develop strong interpersonal relationships with peers, classmates, and others. As i9 Sports points out, teens who participate in sports often develop lifelong friendships with others who also participate. Not only do students who join sports get to know and bond with other students who participate in sports, but the interpersonal skills they develop from interacting with and developing such friendships also help prepare them to build strong social relationships with classmates, peers, and others they meet outside of sports.

Female basketball players huddling on court

Increased College Attendance Likelihood

Only about two percent of kids who play high school sports receive scholarships to play sports in college, but playing on a high school team does boost the chances that students will go to college. This is especially true for girls and students in economically disadvantaged districts. Beyond the Classroom, a study put out by MIT Press Journal notes girls in Title IX (economically disadvantaged) districts were slightly more likely to go to college if they had played high school sports. This could be due to the influence of positive role models, such as coaches. Further, the National Association of State High School Associations points out that college acceptance rates are higher for students who participate in high school sports.

The Importance of High School Sports

Should you join a sport in high school? This is a question that students ponder throughout their high school years. The answer is different for each individual. Sports are not the be-all and end-all when it comes to reaping benefits in high school, but research is clear that there are many benefits of playing sports in high school. If highly competitive high school teams aren't your thing, think about pursuing a more solitary sport like cross country running, or getting involved in some other sports activity at your local recreation department. Whatever you do, don't just sit at home. Get out there and play!

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Why Are High School Sports Important? 10 Benefits for Teens