The United State is unique when it comes to the interplay between academics and athletics in both secondary school and post-secondary school in this country. Given the underwhelming performance of American secondary schools relative to the performance of dozens of nations without integrated athletics programs in their schools, it is hard to take seriously the claim that high school athletics is vital to the development of our children. However, let’s not attack sports simply because the public school system is so terrible – the public school system would be terrible with or without sports. Sports are immensely valuable to many students, and should be viewed as an integral part of their homeschool experience.
From a Multiple Intelligences perspective, participation in sports caters to and helps develop four of the eight intelligences of a child. Adherents of the Multiple Intelligence theory understand the importance of developing linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences, but unlike standard brick and mortar schools, they also encourage the development of the other intelligences: bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, musical, naturalistic and spatial. The most obvious intelligence to be developed through athletic participation is bodily-kinesthetic, which involves the controlled movement of the body to accomplish certain goals. The younger a child begins and the greater the variety of activities she is exposed to, the more likely her potential is to be fully realized.
Other intelligences which are developed through athletic participation include interpersonal, intrapersonal and spatial. Interpersonal development occurs as children are forced to interact with others, particularly through team sports such as football or volleyball. Sports also allow children the opportunity to develop their leadership skills through peers. Intrapersonal development occurs as children set goals and work toward them, learn to deal with adversity and failure, and to win with grace. Finally, children with high spatial intelligence have significant advantages in select sports such as golf, which if fully developed can serve them well in college admissions, professionally and socially.
Sports also have tremendous health benefits for children, which positively affect other parts of their lives such as academic performance and personal relationships. With nearly a third of American children being overweight or obese, it is a shame that more children aren’t involved in athletics. Playing sports from a young age helps strengthen the bones and muscles of children, which can improve confidence and posture. Adolescent females who participate in sports have a more positive body image than those who do not. Additionally, the endorphins that are released during exercise can increase happiness in children that the public schools would otherwise push toward prescription drugs.
Sports can also open up doors to selective colleges and universities. With so much competition to gain admittance into the top schools, being a top athlete in addition to being a top student drastically increases one’s chance of admission. What many parents don’t fully realize is that the best academic schools usually aren’t the best athletic schools (with the exception of Stanford), and therefore their child does not even need to be among the best in the nation to be able to leverage their athletic abilities. Also, the best academic schools often have the greatest number of spots to fill with athletes. For example, Harvard fields 41 intercollegiate varsity teams, more than any other school in the country. Nearly 20% of the 7,000 undergraduates at Harvard College are student-athletes.
The benefit of sports to the development of children is substantial. While academic and athletic success often run counter to each other in public schools, homeschool children benefit from more flexible schedules and far less wasted time (no homerooms, no moving between classes, no class clowns, no fights, etc.). Homeschool children are able to receive the full benefit of academics and athletics in tandem.