54: Nerds and Jocks

A Thousand Things to Talk About
54: Nerds and Jocks

Today, we’re talking about nerds and jocks.

Sports and academics: a match made in heaven, or opposing forces?

Show notes and links:
Families and Schools (Educational Researcher)
Study Finds Academic Benefits for Children’s Physical Activities (Education Week)
The Case Against High-School Sports (The Atlantic)
The Fraud of the Student-Athlete Claim (New York Times)

Full episode text

This will likely come as a surprise to nobody that realizes recreational research is my thing. I wasn’t a student athlete. Nor was I a mathlete, for the record, but a speech-and-debate forensics participant and knowledge bowl teammate.

And if there’s one cliche that always seemed to come up, and plays out in headlines like the Atlantic’s “The Case Against High School Sports” – it was athletes vs geeks. That sports teams are the ones that get all the money and glory, and non-sports teams get short shrift.

Yet there’s some research that physical activity actually benefits student achievement. And schools that have high achieving sports teams tend to also have great academics, pointing to the fact it may be an impact of funding, more than focus. After all, sports and academics both take student focus, dedication, and time.

James Coleman, in his work, found that one of the best predictors of success was actually social networks and social capital, and sports are something that can help create both of these networks.

Yet in colleges, academics and sports are much more controversial. Just this year, two former student athletes have filed a lawsuit, seeking class action status, stating that they did not receive a meaningful education during their time as so-called student athletes. It’s now a well-known secret that some colleges sign student athletes up for independent study or “no work” classes just to fill out credits while still giving the athletes time to train and compete and make money for the college.