• physical fitness and sports;
  • public health;
  • health policy

BACKGROUND: Previous studies have found that higher physical activity levels are associated with greater academic achievement among students. However, it remains unclear whether associations are due to the physical activity itself or sports team participation, which may involve requirements for maintaining certain grades, for example. The purpose of this study is to examine the associations between sports team participation, physical activity, and academic outcomes in middle and high school students.

METHODS: Data were drawn from Project EAT (Eating Among Teens), a survey of middle and high school students (n = 4746). Students self-reported their weekly hours of physical activity, sports team participation, and academic letter grades. Two statistical models were considered: first, 2 separate regression analyses with grade point average (GPA) as the outcome and either sports team participation or physical activity as the predictor; second, a single regression with GPA as the outcome and both sports team participation and physical activity as the simultaneous predictors.

RESULTS: For high school girls, both physical activity and sports team participation were each independently associated with a higher GPA. For high school boys, only sports team participation was independently associated with a higher GPA. For middle school students, the positive association between physical activity and GPA could not be separated from the relationship between sports team participation and a higher GPA.

CONCLUSIONS: Regardless of whether academic success was related to the physical activity itself or to participation on sports teams, findings indicated positive associations between physical activity involvement and academic achievement among students.