There’s little doubt that playing sports helps kids stay physically fit, fight obesity, and make friends, but can it also help their grades?  You bet it can.  The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) conducted research to investigate the link between physical activity in children and their academic performance in school.  The study examined 214 middle schooler who were randomly assigned to take a physical education class during the first or second semester of the school year. Researchers collected information on each student's activity level during and outside of PE class, and compared their activity levels to their grades in four academic subjects:  math, science, world studies and English.  At the end of the study, researchers concluded that the moderate activity provided by PE class for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week did not influence grades.  But, the study showed that those students who were more active and participated in vigorous physical activity for 20 minutes 3 days per week, did perform better in school.  For most of the participants who exercised vigorously, this was through participation in sports outside of school such as soccer, basketball, football, baseball, and softball.

The ACSM study is just one amongst a huge body of research on this topic that consistently concludes exercise indeed provides an academic boost.  Kids who are more physically active show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed, and do better on standardized tests than their less active counterparts.  Scientists suspect that being more active improves blood flow to the brain, providing more oxygen to the cells responsible for learning and attention.  Exercise can also increase certain hormone levels, improving overall mood and combatting stress, both of which make for a better learning environment.

The benefits of playing sports go well beyond just fitness and good grades.  Athletes are better able to concentrate during class, have fewer behavior problems, improve their motor skills and self-esteem.  Participating in sports teaches kids about cooperation, teamwork, and makes them learn about rules and how to act appropriately in social settings.  All of this translates directly into the classroom, resulting in students who follow classroom rules more diligently and get along better with fellow classmates and teachers.

In older children, playing sports teaches them time management skills as they balance the demands of school with practice/game schedules.  Studies have shown athletes are less likely to smoke or engage in drug use than non-athletes.

Getting your child involved in sports has far reaching effects, even into adulthood.  Sports are an easy answer to helping your child boost performance in the classroom.  But even non-athletic children achieve the same benefits of physical activity with non-competitive activities such as biking, swimming, jogging, dancing or playing games like tag.