Failing in School vs. Playing Sports: A Dilemma for Parents

Should poor grades keep a youngster from playing sports? There is no simple answer to this question, but parents need to consider two varying perspectives.

  • All children need vigorous physical activity as part of their daily lives, and sports provide all the benefits of exercise and the potential for acquiring a sense of accomplishment. If a child is having trouble in the classroom, sports may be an important avenue of success in his or her life, so it could be harmful to take it away. In fact, when youngsters feel a sense of success in athletics, this can enhance their self-esteem, which carries over to other areas—including academics.
  • On the other hand, practices and games can rob time from schoolwork. When sports-related demands become excessive, it might be in the child’s best interest to disallow participation.

What should parents do if their child is having trouble keeping grades up?

  • Start by looking for other causes of poor classroom performance. Too much TV watching might be one problem; conflicts with other duties, such as a job, might be another cause.
  • Parents should ask their child what they can do to help him or her improve at school. Plus, input should be sought from coaches, teachers, and school counselors.
  • In some cases, the family and school may decide that the child is not studying enough. In this situation it is reasonable to make sports involvement dependent upon achieving better grades.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Frank L. Smoll, Ph.D., for this article. Dr. Smoll is a sport psychologist at the University of Washington and co-director of Youth Enrichment in Sports. To see previews of his Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports and Mastery Approach to Coaching DVDs, visit

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