New study to look at links between school sports and school success

Education researchers aim to find out whether taking part in school sports helps teens from low-income households thrive in the classroom.

A University of Alberta education professor and her colleagues are teaming up with a non-profit organization that helps students from low-income households participate in school sports to find out if that participation contributes to success in the classroom.

"We know that quality sport programs can teach life skills such as goal setting, communication, improved self-esteem and coping skills for anxiety and stress," said Lauren Sulz, a professor in the Department of Secondary Education. "What we don't know is if there's a connection between these skills and academic behaviour or learning."

Her research will focus on students aged 13 to 18 in Alberta secondary schools who receive funding from KidSport, a national non-profit organization that launched a pilot project in 2016 to help students from low-income households cover registration and equipment costs for school sport.

Data to be collected over two years will include analysis of students' grades and attendance; interviews with students to gain an understanding of their experiences, challenges and benefits of school sports; and interviews with parents, teacher-coaches and other stakeholders to examine the context, challenges and opportunities of the pilot project.

"The purpose of our research is to understand the extent to which KidSport's scholarship successfully promotes school success, attitudes toward school and well-being of students from low-income households," Sulz said. "Does it establish a sense of belonging, of school connectedness, and does it improve attendance and therefore help improve school success?"

She said researchers have looked at the benefit of sport for youth from low-income households and the benefit of school sport in general, but few have examined the benefit of school sport for low-income youth.

Participation in school sports is low among children in low-income households, explained Sulz.

"Parents or caregivers are typically required to pay additional fees ranging from $150 to $450 per season, depending on the school and the sport, so it's not surprising," she said.

She added that students from low-income families achieve lower academic success than the general population for various reasons.

"So we're looking to understand the connection between participation in school sport and school success," said Sulz.

"When we think of sport, we tend to only think of the physical benefits, but there are numerous social, emotional and cognitive benefits associated with participation. All students interested in participating in school sport should be able to receive these benefits, regardless of family income. After all, our goal as educators is to produce productive, contributing and healthy members of society, and sport may be able to contribute to this."