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High School Athletes Gain Lifetime Benefits

Kevin Kniffin

Kevin Kniffin teaches leadership and management in sports at Cornell University as part of the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. He is on Twitter.

Updated October 22, 2014, 10:18 AM

Ask a group of healthy college students in their 20s if they know what they had for lunch three days ago and you’re not likely to see many hands go up. But ask them for memories of competitive sports they played when they were younger and suddenly you’ll hear stories about when they pitched for their school baseball or softball team. Sports offer formative and life-long lessons that stick with people who play.

Research shows that people who play high school sports get better jobs, with better pay. Benefits that last a lifetime.

Those lessons presumably help to account for the findings that people who played for a varsity high school team tend to earn relatively higher salaries later in life. Research to which I contributed, complementing previous studies, showed that people who played high school sports tend to get better jobs, with better pay, and that those benefits last a lifetime.

Hiring managers expect former student-athletes (compared with people who participated in other popular extracurriculars) to have more self-confidence, self-respect and leadership; actual measures of behavior in a sample of people who had graduated from high school more than five decades earlier showed those expectations proved accurate.

We also found that former student-athletes tend to donate time and money more frequently than people who weren’t part of teams.

In other words, there are clear and robust individual and societal benefits that appear to be generated through the current system of school support for participation in competitive youth athletics.

With respect to whether youth athletics should be part of educational institutions, it’s certainly true that there’s no necessary relationship between the two; but, what would happen if schools were to drop all of their interscholastic sports programs?

Any policymakers who took such action would effectively be privatizing – and, in turn, limiting – an important set of opportunities that schools presently provide in a significantly more democratic and open fashion than likely alternatives would. Beyond raising a basic barrier for anyone to gain the kinds of experiences that appear to be rewarded in the workplace, the privatization of competitive youth sports would also create the largest barriers – and cause the greatest long-term losses – for those whose families are not able to bear the costs of participation outside of the public school system.