Participate in Sports Print or save as PDF

How is it defined?

Sport is a physical activity that requires physical exertion, is organized and usually competitive, and played as part of a team or individually (Caspersen, Powell, & Christenson, 1985). The Learning Bar’s framework on student engagement includes measures of social, institutional, and intellectual engagement. Participation in sports is a key component of social engagement, situated alongside participation in clubs, sense of belonging and making positive friendships at school.

Why is it important?

Participation in sports can help students in a multitude of ways. Physical activity can not only contribute to improving students’ physical health, it can also aid in developing social skills and improving mental health (Eime, Young, Harvey, Charity, & Payne, 2013).

  • Participation in sports can help improve academic achievement, including grades (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010).
  • Secondary students who play sports are less likely to drop out of school (Marsh & Kleitman, 2003).
  • Participation in sports is especially beneficial for disadvantaged students as it reduces their risk of dropping out of school (Mahoney, 2000).
  • Students that participate in sports tend to have a positive attitude towards physical activity which does not diminish as they age. Schools can provide opportunities for all students to participate in sport and physical activity (Tannehill, MacPhail, Walsh, & Woods, 2015).

How do we measure it?

In the OurSCHOOL elementary and secondary school surveys, students are asked to indicate how often they participate in sports at school. Students who have participated at least once per week are considered to have ‘participated in sports’. The results are reported as “the percentage of students engaged in school sports”.


Caspersen, C., Powell, K., & Christenson, G. (1985). Physical activity, exercise and physical fitness: Definitions and distinctions for health-related research. Public Health Rep, 100(2), 129.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). The association between school based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Eime, R. M., Young, J. A., Harvey, J. T., Charity, M. J., & Payne, W. R. (2013). A systematic review of the psychological and social benefits of participation in sport for children and adolescents: Informing development of a conceptual model of health through sport. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 10, 98.

Mahoney, J. L. (2000). School extracurricular activity participation as a moderator in the development of antisocial patterns. Child Development, 71(2), 502-516.

Marsh, H. W., & Kleitman, S. (2003). School athletic participation: Mostly gain with little pain. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 25, 205-228.

Tannehill, D., MacPhail, A., Walsh, J., & Woods, C. (2015). What young people say about physical activity: The Children's Sport Participation and Physical Activity (CSPPA) study. Sport, Education & Society, 20, 442-462.