Impact of Sports on Education in America

  • by Dr. Tim Mullen - Sat, 04/28/2018 - 22:54

The following is an excerpt from Dr. Mullen’s book.

To purchase the book, go to

During the last century, sports have played an important part, not just in society, but specifically in the educational realm. There’s no doubt about the lessons that can be learned regarding teamwork, dealing with the emotions of winning and losing, and pride in the school community itself.

I played sports while in school. The neighborhood kids used to come to my house (or me to theirs), knock on the door and ask if I could come out and play baseball. We played with anyone who was home that day or didn’t have chores to do. When was the last time you saw a group of kids do this today?  The new term for kids plating without grown-up intervention is “Free Play.”  It needs a label?

When I got to junior high (7th grade), the schools had organized sports, so I signed up for football and track, and then soccer in high school. There were three seasons and  kids picked one or more and then moved on to the next sport. Sports were fun and they attracted some kids to school who might not have been there, but they were extra-curricular, not the primary focus.

In many schools, today, however, sports have become a dominant force. In some, the main source of school pride is how well the football or basketball teams perform. Athletes are treated with much more attention and accolade than non-athletes—local newspapers seldom publish the “super six” science, math, language arts, Spanish, or social studies students. The school day is disrupted if one of their football players chooses to go to a big name college,  “signing day” becomes the center of attention. I have never seen a high school do a ‘signing day’ for their students going to big schools, like the Armed Forces Academies, Harvard, Yale, Notre Dame, University of Georgia. The message to students is that sports are more important than education.

Schools pay their sports coaches stipends for the time and energy they spend preparing and taking their athletes to competitions, but academic team sponsors (Quiz Bowl, Mock Trial, Science Olympiad, STEM Team, and more) often receive nothing at all. A freshman soccer assistant coach gets money to coach, even though she may be doing it because no one else would, while a teacher with a passion for academics may prepare her students for four months for a mock trial competition but receives no financial incentive. Why? How is it right that college coaches receive larger salaries than the college President and the Governor of the state by many-fold?  They are the highest paid state employees. The message is…

Yet, the variety of academic subject areas opens doors for far more of our children than sports ever can. In 24 years of teaching, I have had a handful of students receive sports-related scholarships to Division I schools. In 24 years, I have had one student make an NFL team (Atlanta Falcons). And yet, when I’ve asked students in my 7th grade class what they want to be when they grow up, far more than a handful are invested in becoming professional sports stars, despite the odds against that. We are doing those students an injustice, because the academics will take the great majority of them further ahead in life than their sports ever will. Watching many parents, they have come to believe that sports will be their child’s ticket to success. The unrealistic expectation and pressures they put on their children cannot be good for too many of them. Then again, the message given the child is that sports are more important than their schooling.

I believe education is the most important force of our society’s future. It will assure continued personal growth and success of individuals, economic growth and stability, and continuation of our country’s constitutional, liberties, and democracy. We must make and show that education is the number one priority for our children. We must do this in actions and appearance, not just words and promises. Sports will not assure our personal and country’s future.

Teacher and author of “STOP BLAMING + START TALKING: Developing a Dialogue for Getting Public Education Back on Track” (