Gaining the Upper Hand: The Benefits of Participating in High School Sports

by Tori Edwards - Staff Writer Champion

You know that feeling you get when the clock is ticking down and you score the winning goal for your team? That feeling you get when you run your fastest race, or shave a second off your personal record to swim your best time ever? Or the feeling you get at the end of a game knowing you did your best, even if you didn’t win? For any athlete who has ever participated in high school sports, the feelings of confidence and satisfaction that come when they work hard to reach—and even surpass—the goals they set for themselves, can benefit them not only in the classroom, but throughout their lives as well. So what are some of the advantages of participating in high school sports?

Health Benefits

Students who participate in high school sports enjoy not only better physical health, but emotional and psychological health as well. The endorphins released during physical activity can help reduce the day-to-day stress that students face, and regular exercise improves concentration, memory, and creativity. Exercise also promotes better problem-solving ability and short-term relaxation skills, improving overall mood. Recent studies have shown that youth who participate in sports are better able to manage emotions, possess greater confidence, and have a stronger sense of self than students who don’t participate in sports. Girls who participate in high school sports also have higher self-esteem and a sense of belonging than those who don’t. And according to a study published by Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, LLP, “out of 14,000 high school athletes, the ones who regularly played sports were less likely to use drugs.

Academic Success

Another benefit of participating in high school sports is greater success in the classroom. According to, students who participate in high school sports reach higher academic achievement, stay in school longer, are more likely to attend college, and complete more years of post-high school education than their counterparts. also reports that, according to a 2007 study, “women who played sports in high school were 73 percent more likely to earn a college degree within six years of graduating high school than those who did not play sports. This advantage held up even for students facing socioeconomic challenges.” In order to play high school sports, students are required to maintain good grades, and in order to maintain good grades, students must learn to manage their time wisely. The time management skills that athletes learn in high school also serve them later in life when they are faced with the rigors of college, as well as demanding careers in the workforce.

Leadership and Teamwork

Along with enjoying health benefits and academic success, high school athletes also learn leadership and teamwork. As they commit to show up every day to practice, set goals for themselves, and strive to achieve those goals, students learn discipline through training, as well as the value of hard work. Students who participate in team sports also learn responsibility, as they do their part to contribute to the overall success of their team. As student athletes work together with teammates and coaches to reach a common goal, they learn to be dependable, knowing others are counting on them. But perhaps one of the most valuable skills that high school athletes learn is persistence. As they strive to work through adversity, they learn how to pick themselves up and to keep moving forward when things don’t go their way—a skill that can serve them long after they graduate. One of the reasons they are able to stay strong through adversity is because they have a good support system.

Healthy Relationships with Adults and Peers

Coaches, teachers and teammates provide a strong support system for student athletes. For this reason, youth who participate in high school sports can gain a strong sense of belonging, because they are able to form healthy, positive relationships with their peers, as well as adults. These positive relationships help high school athletes to be resilient when they face difficult challenges, and can give them a positive place to look for support when they may not have positive role models at home. According to, “Becoming a member of a community that includes teammates, coaches, family and the greater community provides fertile ground for adolescent self-esteem development because teams provide opportunities for youth to engage with adults and peers to achieve collective goals.” And because of this, student athletes are more likely to become involved in their greater community outside of school. They are more likely to register to vote, as well as volunteer later in life.

Positive Way to Fill Time, Higher Wages Later in Life

Another advantage of participating in high school sports is that it gives youth the opportunity to fill their free time with something positive. This is especially important for students who may not have a positive place to go after school. According to, “When Phoenix, Arizona basketball courts and other recreational facilities were kept open until 2 a.m. during summer hours, juvenile crime dropped 55 percent. Similarly, crime rates dropped by 24 percent after late night recreation programs were started in Cincinnati, Ohio.” But something else you may not have realized is that participating in high school sports also gives athletes the opportunity to earn higher wages. Not only are student athletes more likely to get better grades and to attend college, but “longitudinal studies…have found that men at age 32 who played high school sports were paid 31 percent higher wages than men who had not played sports.”

By participating in high school sports, student athletes learn valuable skills that help them not only in the classroom, but in college and in the workforce. But most importantly, they learn skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.


  1. American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. “The Benefits of Playing Sports Aren't Just Physical.” May 30, 2012. Accessed 3/29/2016.
  2. TrueSport. “Psychological and Social Benefits of Playing True Sport.” Accessed 3/29/2015.