Individuals Who Participated In Sports While in School Earn More and Are More Likely to Have Gone to College

New York, N.Y. – Perhaps you were the starting quarterback or broke a school record for running the fastest mile. Maybe you preferred to face an opponent one-on-one in tennis or had a killer free-throw on the basketball court. Whatever the preference, sports tend to be a prevalent extracurricular activity choice while in school. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of American adults participated in some form of athletic activity throughout their schooling years, with half (49%) participating in school team sports and 44% taking up other team sports outside of school. Four-in-ten Americans (41%) participated in school sports with both individual and team aspects, while 37% flew solo, participating in individual sports not through school. Over one-quarter (27%) took formal lessons for a sport.

Higher education levels are associated with participation in athletics. Sixty four percent of those who participated in sports went through some level of higher education, compared to just 45% of those who did not participate. They are more likely to have capped off their education with a four-year college degree (20% vs. 14%) compared to those who didn’t participate and are also twice as likely to have some form of post graduate education (12% vs. 6%).

Participation in athletics is also associated with higher incomes. Fifteen percent of adults who participated in athletics have a personal income greater than $100,000, compared to just 9% of those who did not participate. The same is true for household income levels; 28% of those who participated in sports have a household income over $100,000 compared to just 15% of those who did not.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,232 U.S. adults surveyed online between January 14 and 20, 2015.

Certain groups are more likely than others to have participated in athletics in school. Men are more likely than women (82% versus 65%) to have participated. Generation wise, the younger one is, the more likely they participated in athletics as 81% of Millennials and 76% of Generation X participated compared to 67% of Baby Boomers and 63% of Matures.

Most people who participated in athletics did so for at least a few years while in school, and some are still active in a sport. Just 10% of participants completed less than one year in athletics and one-fifth (21%) completed between one and three years. One-quarter (25%) completing three to five years, three-in-ten (29%) completed more than five years, and 9% are still going strong today.

Athletic participation scores personal fulfillment points

Among those who participated in an athletic program during their school years, close to one-half (45%) say it was extremely or very influential to their current level of personal fulfillment, with another third (32%) saying it was somewhat influential. Those with some college education or a college degree are more likely to say their athletic participation was extremely or very influential than those with a high school or less education (48% and 56% vs. 37%, respectively).

The longer people stayed involved in an athletic program, the more likely they are to say that participating influenced their current level of personal fulfillment. Among those who participated for less than three years, less than one-quarter (23%) say it was extremely or very influential, while nearly half (47%) of those with 3-5 years of participation say the same. This jumps again when looking at those who participated for more than five years, with over six in ten (63%) sharing this sentiment and over three-quarters (77%) of those still involved say it was very or extremely influential. Overall, just 18% say it was not at all influential.

Gaining skills on and off the field

Much more than just learning how to dribble a ball or throw a strike, participation in athletics has the ability to provide various skills that may be needed for success in a job or career. Those who were involved in athletics during school years agree that the skills they learned spanned beyond just those used on the playing field. Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) feel their participation in athletic activities was extremely or very important in providing them with skills to work towards common goals. Similar percentages say it was important in helping them develop skills to strive for individual excellence in a group setting (66%) and to have a disciplined approach to problem solving (65%). Sixty percent each say athletics was important in helping them with flexibility in work situations and creative problem solving.

Interestingly, those involved in athletics for 3+ years are more likely than those who participated for less than three years to say it was very or extremely important in providing them with each of these skills.

  • Working towards common goals: 54% of those involved less than 3 years vs. 78% or more for those involved at least 3 years

  • Striving for individual excellence in a group setting: 52% vs. 75% or more

  • Disciplined approach to solving problems: 51% vs. 72% or more

  • Flexibility in work situations: 47% vs. 65% or more

  • Creative problem solving: 47% vs. 61% or more

Additionally, strong majorities of adults agree that the learnings and habits from participating in athletics help individuals later in life. Over eight-in-ten Americans (82%), and 87% of those who participated themselves, agree the learnings and habits from athletics equip people to be better team players in their career. Seventy-eight percent of the general population (and 83% of those who were involved with athletics) say it provides people with a disciplined approach to problem solving, while 77% of adults (and 83% of those who participated) agree it prepares someone to manage the tasks of their job more successfully.

 

TABLE 1a

ATHLETICS PARTICIPATION

During your years in school, when and how did you participate in athletics? Please select all that apply.

Base: All adults

Total

Elementary School

Jr. High School

High School

College

None of these

%

%

%

%

%

%

School team sport (e.g., basketball, football, field hockey)

49

17

29

37

8

51

Team sport not through school (e.g., little league, recreational team)

44

28

25

20

6

56

School sport with both individual and team aspects (e.g., golf, tennis, track)

41

12

21

31

7

59

Individual sport not through school

37

17

20

22

11

63

Formal lessons for a sport

27

12

14

15

6

73

Something else involving athletics

33

15

17

23

14

67

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 

TABLE 1b

WHO PARTICIPATED IN ATHLETICS

Summary of those who participated at all

Base: All adults

Total

%

All Adults

73

Gender

Men

82

Women

65

Region

East

75

Midwest

70

South

72

West

77

Generation

Millennials (18-37)

81

Gen X (38-49)

76

Baby Boomers (50-68)

67

Matures (69+)

63

Education

High School or less

64

Some college

77

College graduate

80

Post-graduate

85

Household Income

$34,999 or less

67

$35,000-$49,999

70

$50,000-$74,999

69

$75,000-$99,999

77

$100,000+

83

 

TABLE 2

TIME WITH ATHLETIC PROGRAM – By education and type of athletic program

How long did you continue with this athletic program or these athletic programs? If you were involved in multiple programs then please think of the total number of years you were involved with at least one.

Base: Involved in Athletic Program

Total

Education

Type of Athletic Program

HS or less

Some College

College Grad

Post Grad

Pure Team

Individual/ Mixed

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Less than one year

10

12

9

7

8

7

9

One to less than three years

21

27

17

17

19

20

19

Three to five years

25

22

29

29

18

26

26

More than five years

29

22

30

35

38

31

29

Still involved in an athletic program

9

8

11

9

12

10

12

Not sure

6

10

4

3

5

5

6

Note: Responses may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 3a

INFLUENCE OF ATHLETIC PARTICIPATION – By education

Thinking back on your time spent participating in athletics, how influential do you believe these experiences have been in contributing to your current level of personal fulfillment? By fulfillment, we mean learnings or habits you may have picked up during your participation in athletics that have helped you in other aspects of your life.

Base: Involved in Athletic Program

Total

Education

HS or less

Some College

College Grad

Post Grad

%

%

%

%

%

EXTREMELY/VERY INFLUENTIAL (NET)

45

37

48

56

44

Extremely influential

20

15

20

24

26

Very influential

25

21

28

32

18

Somewhat influential

32

32

34

28

33

Not influential at all

18

24

15

14

20

Not sure

5

8

3

3

3

Note: Responses may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 3b

INFLUENCE OF ATHLETIC PARTICIPATION – By years in athletics and type of athletic program

Thinking back on your time spent participating in athletics, how influential do you believe these experiences have been in contributing to your current level of personal fulfillment? By fulfillment, we mean learnings or habits you may have picked up during your participation in athletics that have helped you in other aspects of your life.

Base: Involved in Athletic Program

Total

Years in Athletics

Type of Athletic Program

Less than 3

3-5 years

5+ years

Still involved

Pure Team

Individual/ mixed

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

EXTREMELY/VERY INFLUENTIAL (NET)

45

23

47

63

77

49

49

Extremely influential

20

6

12

34

52

23

23

Very influential

25

17

35

30

25

27

26

Somewhat influential

32

35

36

28

22

30

32

Not influential at all

18

36

12

8

16

15

Not sure

5

6

4

1

1

5

4

Note: Responses may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 4a

ATHLETIC PARTICIPATION PROVIDES SKILLS

Participating in athletics has the ability to provide various skills that you may need for success in a job or career outside of athletics. For example, instilling work habits or ways of thinking about things learned in athletics that can be applied to the job or career. How important was participation in athletic activity in providing you with the following skills?

Base: Involved in Athletic Program

Extremely/Very Important (NET)

Extremely Important

Very Important

Somewhat Important

Not important at all

Not sure

%

%

%

%

%

%

Working towards common goals

69

40

29

19

7

5

Striving for individual excellence in a group setting

66

34

32

20

10

4

Disciplined approach to solving problems

65

34

31

19

11

4

Flexibility in work situations

60

29

31

21

14

5

Creative problem solving

60

32

27

20

15

5

Note: Responses may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 4b

ATHLETIC PARTICIPATION PROVIDES SKILLS – By education

Percent saying Extremely/Very Important

Participating in athletics has the ability to provide various skills that you may need for success in a job or career outside of athletics. For example, instilling work habits or ways of thinking about things learned in athletics that can be applied to the job or career. How important was participation in athletic activity in providing you with the following skills?

Base: Involved in Athletic Program

Total

Education

HS or less

Some College

College Grad

Post Grad

%

%

%

%

%

Working towards common goals

69

63

72

75

71

Striving for individual excellence in a group setting

66

59

72

68

68

Disciplined approach to solving problems

65

57

68

72

70

Flexibility in work situations

60

56

61

65

62

Creative problem solving

60

53

63

64

62

Note: Responses may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 4c

ATHLETIC PARTICIPATION PROVIDES SKILLS – By years in athletics and type of athletic program

Percent saying Extremely/Very Important

Participating in athletics has the ability to provide various skills that you may need for success in a job or career outside of athletics. For example, instilling work habits or ways of thinking about things learned in athletics that can be applied to the job or career. How important was participation in athletic activity in providing you with the following skills?

Base: Involved in Athletic Program

Total

Years in Athletics

Type of Athletic Program

Less than 3

3-5 years

5+ years

Still involved

Pure Team

Individual/ mixed

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Working towards common goals

69

54

78

78

85

73

71

Striving for individual excellence in a group setting

66

52

75

75

77

69

69

Disciplined approach to solving problems

65

51

72

75

81

68

67

Flexibility in work situations

60

47

65

69

72

62

62

Creative problem solving

60

47

61

69

76

62

61

Note: Responses may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 5a

WHAT ATHLETIC PARTICIPATION PREPARES PEOPLE FOR

Please indicate whether you agree or disagree with the following statements.

Base: All adults

AGREE (NET)

Strongly Agree

Somewhat Agree

DISAGREE (NET)

Somewhat disagree

Strongly Disagree

Not Sure

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Learnings and habits from participating in athletics equip people to be better team players in their career.

82

41

41

9

6

3

9

Learnings and habits from participating in athletics provide you with a disciplined approach to solving problems.

78

34

45

12

8

4

10

Learnings and habits from participating in athletics prepare someone to manage the tasks of their job more successfully.

77

30

47

12

9

4

11

Note: Responses may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 5b

WHAT ATHLETIC PARTICIPATION PREPARES PEOPLE FOR – By participated in athletics and education

Percent saying Agree

Please indicate whether you agree or disagree with the following statements?

Base: All adults

Total

Participated in athletics

Education

Yes

No

HS or Less

Some College

College Grad

Post Grad

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Learnings and habits from participating in athletics equip people to be better team players in their career.

82

87

68

78

83

87

83

Learnings and habits from participating in athletics provide you with a disciplined approach to solving problems.

78

83

65

74

81

84

79

Learnings and habits from participating in athletics prepare someone to manage the tasks of their job more successfully.

77

83

61

72

81

81

78

Note: Responses may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 6

PERSONAL INCOME – By participated in athletics

Which of the following income categories best describes your total 2014 personal income?

Base: All adults

Total

Participated in athletics

Yes

No

%

%

%

Less than $50,000

52

51

57

$50,000 – Less than $75,000

14

15

13

$75,000 – Less than $100,000

8

8

7

$100,000 or more

13

15

9

Not sure/Decline to answer

12

11

15

Note: Responses may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 7

HOUSEHOLD INCOME – By participated in athletics

Which of the following income categories best describes your total 2014 household income before/after taxes?

Base: All adults

Total

Participated in athletics

Yes

No

%

%

%

Less than $35,000

25

23

32

$35,000 – $49,999

12

12

14

$50,000 – $74,999

17

16

20

$75,000 – $99,999

12

13

10

$100,000 or more

25

28

15

Decline to answer

8

8

9

Note: Responses may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 8

EDUCATION LEVEL – By participated in athletics

What is the highest level of education you have completed or the highest degree you have received?

Base: All adults

Total

Participated in athletics

Yes

No

%

%

%

High School or Less

41

36

54

Any College

59

64

45

Some College (no degree or Associate degree)

30

31

25

College Degree (B.A. or B.S.)

19

20

14

Post Grad

11

12

6

Note: Responses may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between January 14 and 20, 2015 among 2,232 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #16, March 10, 2015

By Allyssa Birth, Senior Research Analyst, The Harris Poll