Put down the Xbox and pick up a ball

I was especially disappointed Saturday morning when my two-year-old daughter's "sports class" was canceled because I had just read in The American (the piece doesn't seem to be online yet)* that kids who play sports fare better in life along a number of dimensions--they stay in school longer, they earn higher wages, and they are "15 percent more likely to be registered to vote, 14 percent more likely to watch the news, and 8 percent more likely to feel comfortable speaking in public."

I'm sure many athletes could attest to what they've gained from sports, which require commitment, leadership, responsibility, etc. But is it really sports that make the difference, or is it merely that the kids who gravitate toward athletics are already more likely to be successful? Interestingly, these authors report, the civic engagement results above came after researchers had controlled for "age, educational attainment, and income," and the researchers who have controlled for intelligence still find gaps in wages and educational attainment.

Why is this? The article speculates that in sports, kids experience "the positive feedback between effort and results," which "can then lead to snowballing commitments to excellence." Unfortunately, the authors then wander onto thinner ice and suggest that perhaps these market-like lessons learned in Little League are why the U.S. has less of a welfare state than Europe, where kids spend less time playing sports. But if we stay in education, I wonder if they're on to something. And if so, why aren't our young student-athletes using the lessons learned on the field to beat the rest of the world in the classroom?

Photo by Flickr user partsnpieces.

*Update: The link is now available here.

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