News You Can Use: Study Shows the Academic Benefits of Extracurricular Activities

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By Dawn Van Osdell

Juggling jam-packed schedules in order to chauffeur kids to and from extracurricular activities has become a daily norm (read: irritation) for many parents. They do it to help their kids build skills, and keep healthy, socialized and entertained. But is the effort it takes to get young kids to activities such as soccer or swim practice worth the strain on already time-stretched families? New research released by the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine children’s hospital, says it most definitely is. The study, published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, found that regular, structured extracurricular sports, in particular, help kids develop the discipline they need to do well in school, especially when they hit their preteen years. 

“By the time they reached the fourth grade, kids who played structured sports were identifiably better at following instructions and remaining focused in the classroom,” says Professor Linda Pagani, who led the study, along with her colleagues, Geneviève Piché and Caroline Fitzpatrick. They looked at information provided by parents and teachers detailing the behavior of more than 2,500 kindergarteners—most who were six years old at the time. They repeated the data gathering from the same participants four years later to compare kindergarteners’ activities with their performance in fourth grade.

There’s a clear link between extracurricular participation at a young age and future academic success, but not just any extracurricular activity has the same positive impact. Pagani says it has something to do specifically with a sporting environment, perhaps “the unique sense of belonging to a team, to a special group with a common goal—that appears to help kids understand the importance of respecting the rules and honoring responsibilities,” qualities that help them excel in school. In addition to scoring higher in self regulation by the time they reached fourth grade, kids who were involved in team sports in kindergarten were more likely to be active in team sports in their pre-teen years, than those who didn’t play when they were young. Conversely, participating in unstructured activities had no impact on the child's future.

The conclusion: Shuttling your kindergartener to soccer practice, or even to the park where he can play a rowdy game with friends, is definitely worth the time and effort it takes to get him there and involved. The self-regulation and attention skills he gains from the structured, athletic play will ultimately help him—both on the playing field and in the classroom.  How to fit it on your calendar is another story! 

Photo by MMarsolais via Compfight