Playing sports – It benefits more than your health

May 09, 2016
Tagged with: Playing sports – It benefits more than your health

Whew! I made it through another semester of graduate school. Interestingly, one of my assignments for this semester required me to complete extensive research into a topic of my choosing. In the end my topic, as it often does, centered on adaptive sports. Since the health benefits of sports participation are well known, I was intrigued by non-health benefits that can be derived from playing sports.

We all know that participating in physical activity has numerous health benefits. Those benefits include improved cardiovascular and muscle fitness, improved mental health, a better ability to do the tasks of daily life, and a lower occurrence of obesity (CDC, 2010). While physical activity is good for one’s health, the benefits of physical activity can extend beyond your physical health.  Athletic participation can also have long-term positive effects on participants’ academic success and even influence their future economic outlook.

While the perception of student-athletes is one of a dumb jock who cares little about their academics, research says otherwise. Pascarella and Smart (1991) found that the chance of athletes completing a bachelor’s degree was much higher than their non-athlete peers. Furthermore, Franklin (2006) found that graduation rates for student-athletes are higher than their non-athlete peers. This is the case across almost all demographics including white, black, male, female, etc.

In addition to health and academic benefits, athletic participation has been shown to positively influence participants’ economic futures. Past athletic participation has a strong positive correlation regarding the former student athlete’s future employment. Multiple studies (Barron, Ewing, & Waddell, 2000; Ewing, 2007; Stevenson, 2010) have discussed the positive correlation between high school athletic participation and future economic success. These studies found that former athletes had higher standing jobs, earned better wages, and enjoyed better fringe benefits (e.g. health insurance, pensions). Kniffin, Wansink, and Shimizu (2015) expanded upon this research and determined the possible reason for the relationship. Kniffin et al. show that former student-athletes are more likely to display attributes that employers are looking for, such as leadership, self-confidence, and self-respect. The research indicates that the benefits of high school sports participation extend well into adulthood. Kniffin et al. discovered that individuals that played varsity-level high school sports enjoyed higher-status careers six decades after their high school careers ended.  Able-bodied athletes are not the only ones whose economic benefits due to athletic participation have been studied. Amy Lastuka and Michael Cottingham (2015) found that every additional year of adaptive sport participation resulted in an approximate 4% increase in likelihood of employment for the participants.

I find these studies especially intriguing when considering the current state of the disabled community at large. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in 2014 the rate of employment for individuals with disabilities was only 17.1% whereas the able-bodied population employment rate was 64.6%. Also, a 2015 analysis of federal education data found that the national average high school graduation rate for students with disabilities was 61.9 percent (DePaoli, J. L. et al.). This is despite research indicating that 85 to 90 percent of kids with disabilities are capable of completing the requirements for a high school diploma (Diament, M., 2015). This low high school graduation rate has led, in part, to the most recent data finding that only 11% of college undergraduates have a disability (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2015).

Will playing sports change all of this? Of course not. Multiple other factors hinder individuals with disabilities including societal barriers. However, given the research, it is apparent that playing sports, has its benefits and those benefits are not limited to your health.


I hope you found this interesting (I certainly did!). If you would like to read the studies I referenced, follow the links below. If you are interested in others like them (I have about 20…) let me know in the comments and I will do what I can to make them available.



Barron, J. M., Ewing, B. T., & Waddell, G. R. (2000). The effects of high school athletic                          participation on education and labor market outcomes. Review of Economics and                           Statistics, 82, 409-421. Retrieved from                                                                            

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2015). Persons with a Disability: Labor force characteristics —2014.             Retrieved from

Center for Disease Control. (2010). Overweight and Obesity: Among People with Disabilities.       Retrieved from                                                                                                                          

DePaoli, J. L., Fox, J. H., Ingram, E. S., Maushard, M., Bridgeland, J. M., & Balfanz, R. (2015).              Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout              Epidemic. Annual Update 2015. Civic Enterprises. Retrieved from:                                             

Diamont, M. (2015). Nearly 40 Percent Of Students With Disabilities Don’t Graduate. Disability             Scoop. Retrieved from’t         -graduate/20292/

Ewing, B. T. (2007). The labor market effects of high school athletic participation: Evidence                     from wage and fringe benefit differentials. Journal of Sports Economics, 8, 255- 265. doi:                   10.1177/1527002505279348

Franklin, B. (2006). College Athletics as a Model for Promoting Academic Integrity in Higher      Education. Mid-Western Educational Researcher19(1), 15-18.

Kniffin, K. M., Wansink, B., & Shimizu, M. (2015). Sports at work: Anticipated and persistent    correlates of participation in high school athletics. Journal of Leadership &                                  Organizational Studies22(2), 217-230. doi:10.1177/1548051814538099

Latuska, A. & Cottingham, M. (2015). The effect of adaptive sports on employment among                      people with disabilities. Disability & Rehabilitation38(8), 742-748.                                            doi:10.3109/09638288.2015.1059497

National Center for Educational Statistics. (2015). Fast Facts: Students with disabilities.                            Retrieved from

Pascarella, E. T., & Smart, J. C. (1991). Impact of intercollegiate athletic participation for                          African American and Caucasian men: Some further evidence [Abstract]. Journal of                       College Student Development32(2), 123-130.

Stevenson, B. (2010). Beyond the classroom: Using Title IX to measure the return to high school             sports. Review of Economics and Statistics, 92, 284-301. Retrieved from                               


Author: Phillip Crain

  • bobl07

    Thank you so much for this information. I very much liked the part on how playing sports can benefit future employment endeavors. No doubt that it has benefitted me. I know many of our wheelchair sport athletes find jobs in wheelchair sports, like playing wheelchair basketball. I wonder how many find work when the playing days are over? This could be a future blog or research project.

  • Phillip

    That was the stuff I found most interesting as well. That study by Latuska and Cottingham is the first, and only as far as I know, to look at the effect that sports participation has on athletes with disabilities’ economic endeavors. Until now most research involving athletes with disabilities has centered around how their disability affects their athletic ability or how their athletic participation affects their mental and physical health.

    While those areas are important would be interesting to see further studies on how sports participation affects economic and academic factors in athletes with disabilities.

  • bobl07

    I am sure you know that UA is putting up a $10 million facility that is exclusively for adaptive sport. This is a good gauge.

  • Phillip

    haha, I certainly am! While our facilities are nice, I am sure their new facility will be impressive once complete. Not to mention a recruiting tool!

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