High school athletics and academics: Exploring the path from participation to achievement

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

Jomills Henry II Braddock - Committee Chair


For many years it has been assumed that school-based sports activities contribute to the healthy social, psychological, and cognitive development of American youth. Yet, sound, empirical evidence on these benefits continues to be limited. One area that has generated considerable interest and debate is that of the effects of interscholastic sport participation on academic achievement. The overall body of research on this relationship is generally characterized by positive associations. However, few of the studies on this topic report statistically significant results, and only a handful of more recent studies can be described as methodologically comprehensive and rigorous. Using national data, the present study seeks to add to this knowledge base by: (1) examining the effects of a cumulative measure of high school varsity athletic participation on standardized test performance for males and females, with controls for student background characteristics, "at-risk" status, and prior academic performance; and (2) conducting an exploratory test of the model proposed by Braddock (2000) to examine potential factors which mediate the influence of sport participation on academic achievement. Results show significant positive effects of varsity sport participation on males' standardized mathematics achievement test performance and on females' standardized mathematics, history and science achievement test performance. In addition, exploratory analysis indicates that all four correlates proposed by the Braddock Model are strong potential mediators of academic success. Recommendations are made for the application of these findings in more comprehensive causal modeling frameworks. Implications for educational policy and reform are also considered.


Education, Sociology of; Education, Secondary; Sociology, General

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