Should we dial back high school sports? | KUOW News and Information

Should we dial back high school sports?

Apr 28, 2016

When you think high school, do you think math class? Or do you think about the Friday night lights, the pep rallies and the spirit days?

Let's face it, high school sports are big in this country. By placing such a big emphasis on sports, some schools are sending kids the wrong message, said Amanda Ripley, an education journalist and author.

“They eventually find out that for the vast majority of kids it will not pay for their college tuition, it will not get them a job,” she said. “There’s a disconnect between the messages we send to kids and the reality of the world today.” 

And it's not just about time and messaging, Ripley said. There's a real financial commitment that schools make when they put an emphasis on sports programs. 

"What you find typically is that high schools are spending two to three, or even four times, per football player than they are spending per math student,” she said.

"Increasingly, as the economy and the world have changed, kids need to be able to do critical thinking and math, reading and science at a higher level than they ever did before in order to have a decent job and a good life."

There isn't a lot of research on the impact of sports on academic success, Ripley said. But the small amount there is seems to suggest that sports can distract some students and lower academic performance. 

2011 study found that the grades of students at colleges with successful football teams suffered when the teams did well. "As the football team won more games they slacked off on academics," Ripley said. 

Ripley doesn’t advocate for the total removal of sports from schools. “They provide exercise, they encourage sportsmanship and team building, and they give kids a certain amount of fun and levity that might otherwise be missing in a purely academic environment,” she said.

But schools can do a better job of setting priorities, like having rules that students can never miss class for an athletic event. It’s a conversation Ripley thinks should be happening with the help of students.

"You have to involve them in this conversation and seriously listen to what they have to say or else they're going to feel robbed of what has become an entitlement for American kids. They really, truly believe, understandably, that playing football under the lights on Friday night is a God-given human right so you cannot take it away without their input," Ripley said.