Jewish Journal

Team Sports and Success

by  David A. Lehrer

February 18, 2010 | 2:47 pm

Occasionally, research is reported on that confirms beliefs you hold but haven’t been certain of. You think that your observations and conclusions are correct but you lack the empirical data to assert the beliefs with any kind of assuredness.

That reality made The New York Times Health section this past Monday so refreshing.

It contained an article that confirmed what I have believed for years but never saw documentation of—- “that team sports can result in lifelong improvements to educational, work and health prospects.”

As budgets for education are cut left and right, with the arts and sports being among the first casualties, it’s worth noting that there are unforeseen benefits to the less traditional aspects of education that aren’t simply “reading, writing and ‘rithmatic.”

The lessons of sport aren’t amenable to easy assessment and evaluation, but they are


—-I, as a parent with nearly three decades of schlepping to basketball, baseball and track events, can vouch for that.

As the father of four children, all of whom participated in organized sports through high school (my oldest daughter who was and is a dancer [now a professional] was in a ‘non-traditional’ sport); I can attest on a personal level to the impact that team sports has on kids.

The notions of excellence, of striving to attain better skills, of recognizing differing levels of talent, of learning to work with others of diverse capacities, the joy of victory, and even the disappointment of defeat all result in life-long lessons that extend far beyond the playing field.

By the way, those realities run head-on into to the all too prevalent “self-esteem” notions that we are all “winners” and there aren’t levels of achievement and skill (i.e. that winning and losing and talent are relatively unimportant). Early elementary school kids can figure out who does better and see through phony praise intended to “protect” them. One of my children played on a high school team where the athletic director “strongly suggested” to coaches that every criticism of a player be preceded by four “positive” comments. Mercifully, that was at the end of my kid’s tenure at that school.

Two new studies confirm everything I have ever believed about the impact of team sports—-especially how wonderful they are for young girls. 

As the Times reports:

Using a complex analysis, Dr. Stevenson showed that increasing girls’ sports participation had a direct effect on women’s education and employment. She found that the changes set in motion by Title IX explained about 20 percent of the increase in women’s education and about 40 percent of the rise in employment for 25-to-34-year-old women.

“It’s not just that the people who are going to do well in life play sports, but that sports help people do better in life,” she said, adding, “While I only show this for girls, it’s reasonable to believe it’s true for boys as well.”

Another question is whether Title IX has made a difference in women’s long-term health. In a carefully conducted study, Robert Kaestner, an economics professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, compared rates of obesity and physical activity of women who had been in high school in the 1970s — as Title IX was taking effect — with similar women from earlier years. Controlling the results for other influences, like age and changing diets, Dr. Kaestner was able to tease out the effects Title IX had on women’s health.

He found that the increase in girls’ athletic participation caused by Title IX was associated with a 7 percent lower risk of obesity 20 to 25 years later, when women were in their late 30s and early 40s. His article was published this month in the journal Evaluation Review.

According to the Times, the evidence is overwhelming and convincing. These data might chasten our educational leaders who think they know where funding cuts should be made—-nothing is easy.


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