Study: Playing sports, especially in college, linked to better grades

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EAST LANSING, Mich. — Signing your kids up for soccer in the fall and lacrosse in the spring may do more for them than build social skills or turn them into athletes. A study by researchers at Michigan State University shows that playing sports can also lead to improved academic performance, particularly for college students.

The study found that playing recreational sports in college improved the grade point averages (GPA) of students and increased the likelihood for them to return for another term.

The researchers analyzed almost 1,800 freshmen at MSU. The students who played intramural sports averaged a 3.25 GPA at the end of their first year, compared to a 3.07 GPA for freshmen who didn’t play recreational sports.

The findings also showed that playing intramural sports was linked to lower odds of students dropping or failing classes their first year. In fact, those who played recreational sports were 40% more likely to return for their sophomore year, and 2.5 times more likely to come back to the university overall.

“At the end of the year, students who played sports dropped or failed a total average of six credits compared to 7.7 credits among non-playing students,” says lead author Kerri Vasold in a university release.

The nearly-two credit difference per year for those who play sports has a large effect on the time it takes to graduate, limiting expenses like student loans.

As for the ideal number of sports and extracurricular activities that seemed to be most beneficial, researchers say the “sweet spot” ranges from four to seven activities over a school year.

“Don’t go crazy. Don’t join 20 teams,” says co-author Jim Pivarnik, a professor of kinesiology. “Grab some friends, find a moderate number of activities and get involved in something different. The four-to-seven range seems to be effective and is linked to a higher GPA.”

Adds Vasold: “There are so many different ways to participate/ And the best part is you don’t have to be an all-star basketball player or have played ultimate frisbee before. You can still join a team. It’s an inclusive environment and helps students do better and creates a new home.”

The study is published in the Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory, and Practice.

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