Sports participation

Low impact for moderate cost, based on limited evidence.


Sports participation

Sports participation interventions engage pupils in sports as a means to increasing educational engagement and attainment. This might be through organised after school activities or a programme organised by a local sporting club or association. Sometimes sporting activity is used as a means to encourage young people to engage in additional learning activities, such as football training at a local football club combined with study skills, ICT, literacy, or mathematics lessons.

How effective is it?

The overall impact of sports participation on academic achievement tends to be positive but low (about two additional months’ progress). However, there is recent evidence from the UK that sports participation can have a larger effect on, for example, mathematics learning when combined with a structured numeracy programme (with one study showing an impact of up to ten months' additional progress). In this circumstance the ‘participation’ acted as an incentive to undertake additional instruction.

The variability in effects suggests that the quality of the programme and the emphasis on, or connection with, academic learning may make more difference than the specific type of approach or sporting activities involved. Participating in sports and physical activity is likely to have wider health and social benefits.

Latin American evidence:

Qualitative and quantitative research has been done in Latin America to explore the effects of physical and sport activities on learning and student wellbeing. Using an ethnographic approach, a study identifies that success in physical education activities can be important for the institutional culture of the school. This culture not only contributes to the school environment, but also can contribute to the formation of the school’s identity and shared goals when the school engages in sport competitions.

Additionally, a quantitative study compares the academic performance and the physical self-concept among a group of high school students according to their physical activity level. It also shows that male and female students that are more physically active have higher self-concept and academic performance than their peers doing lower levels of physical activities, although it is not clear from this study whether being more physically active is a cause or an effect.

The existing evidence in Latin America on sports participation and its impact on academic achievement is still insufficient to establish a direct and significant relationship between them. However, initial evidence seems to show that sports can contribute to other dimensions of student development.

How secure is the evidence?

There have been a number of reviews linking the benefits of participation in sport with academic benefits. There is, however, considerable variation in impact, including some studies which show negative effects. Overall, the evidence is rated as limited.

What are the costs?

The costs vary according to equipment, venue, and group size. There would also be a difference in cost between providing sports activities on school premises, and pupils attending existing provision. Overall, costs are estimated as moderate.

What should I consider?

Before you implement this strategy in your learning environment, consider the following:

  1. Being involved in extra-curricular sporting activities may increase attendance and retention.

  2. Impact varies considerably between different interventions, and participation in sports does not straightforwardly transfer to academic learning. It is likely that the quality of the programme and the emphasis on or connection with academic learning may make more difference than the specific type of approach or activities involved.

  3. Planned extra-curricular activities which include short, regular, and structured teaching in literacy and mathematics (either tutoring or group teaching) as part of a sports programme, such as an after school club or summer school, are much more likely to offer academic benefits than sporting activities alone.

  4. If you are considering sports participation as an approach to improving attendance, engagement and attainment, have you considered how you will evaluate the impact? 

Copyright © [2016] The Education Endowment Foundation. All rights reserved.

(*)Síntesis elaborada por SUMMA a partir de la revisión sistemática de investigaciones académicas realizadas en la región.