Organized Sport and School as Complementary and Competing Venues: Different Patterns for Minority and Majority Youth? | A Summary

An Analysis of the Relationship Between Schoolwork, School Grades, and Educational Aspirations, and Sport Dropout

Mads Skauge1 & Arve Hjelseth2
1 Nord University, Norway; 2 Norwegian Universityof Science and Technology, Trondheim

Previous research suggests that the prioritizing of schoolwork (homework) is a major reason why minority youth (youth with two foreign-born parents) drop out of organized sports in a period of time (late adolescence) where both school and sports become increasingly time-demanding (more homework and greater significance of test scores). To what extent is time spent on homework related to sports engagement? Are there different patterns for minority and majority youth? If so, how can this be explained? In this paper, we seek to answer these questions.

The desire for more time for schoolwork is an important reason when young people quit club-organized sports. When youths having ended their associational sport career are asked why they left sports, this turns out to be the most important reason for sport withdrawal among minority youth, and the reasoning appears to be about twice as important as for majority youth. This has also repeatedly been revealed in studies from for instance the US and Sweden. A similar pattern exists when minority youth are asked if they do not have time to participate in organized leisure activities (extracurriculars) due to schoolwork, and when immigrant parents are asked why their children do not participate in organized leisure activities.

Four out of ten minority youths having left sports clubs state the desire to prioritize schoolwork as the main reason, and this dropout motive has become more important in recent years. Minority youth also spend more time on homework than majority youth. While majority youth on average spend about one hour a day on homework, minority youth spend at least half an hour more on average. Minority youth thus spend the most time on homework and at the same time participate least in sports (lower participatory levels/higher dropout levels), and schoolwork thus seems to be an important reason for the latter. This indicates that the relationship between sports and school is important for understanding social inequality in sports participation, which is supported by studies finding that minority youth involved in sports spend less time on homework compared to those who are not.

We know a lot about the “dropout phenomenon” from organized youth sports: how many quit (how great the dropout levels are), when they quit (age), who quits (e.g., along gender, class, ethnicity, and sport level lines), and why they quit (what causes dropout). However, there is a lack of research in combining perspectives on why young people opt out of sports (dropout reasons) with analyses of social differences in dropout more generally (whether those dropping out have certain characteristics). In other words, there is less research that sees dropout reasons and inequality in dropouts from youth sports in light of each other (how variables associated with dropout reasons affect the overall dropout rate among various groups). A study from Trondheim indicates a positive correlation between school performance and sport dropout levels for minority youth, and – contrastingly – a negative correlation between the variables for majority youth. More such approaches could contribute to a better understanding of dropout in youth sports, and to more nuanced insights into how the relationship between sports and school, the so-called school–sport balance, appears to minority and majority youth, respectively.

This article examines the relationship between sports and school. How can the balance between sports and school, in the form of time spent on schoolwork, school performance, and educational aspirations on the one hand, and participation in organized sports on the other, explain differences in minority and majority youth sport dropout levels? The study is based on Ungdata 2017-2019 with students in high school (16-19 years) as respondents. Theoretically, we draw on the minority drive perspective, which goes all the way back to Lauglo.

We are inspired by studies that explain the mobility orientation of Asian minority youth in the US, and educational aspirations among Pakistani minority youth in the UK, with the Colemanian social capital conceptualization. Furthermore, we build on Modood’s combination of the Bourdieusian concept of cultural capital and American research on ethnic social capital to explain why non-white ethnic minorities in the UK are overrepresented in higher education despite the fact that these minorities tend to have fewer socioeconomic resources than their white counterparts. Together with a Bourdieu-inspired concept of sports habitus and Coleman’s take on social capital, this constitutes the conceptual framework for the analysis.

There are three findings in particular to be noted. Sport dropouts are associated with more time spent on schoolwork for both minority and majority youth, but the effect is greatest for minority youth. We find no significant relationship between educational aspirations and dropouts for minority youth, whereas for majority youth educational aspirations are associated with a lower probability (likelihood) of dropout. The most interesting finding is that the relationship between school performance (grades) and sport dropout is opposite for minority and majority youth: While better school performance goes together with higher probability of sport dropout for minority youth, the mirror correlation is revealed for majority youth (sport dropout goes together with lower grades, and consequently maintenance of sport membership goes together with better test scores). Then again, as highly school oriented and ambitious minority youths are very likely to drop out of sport, other more flexible exercise contexts (e.g., commercial fitness) than obligation-traditional sport might be a better fit.

The negative correlation between dropout from sport and school engagement for minority youth, is suggested to be caused by an underlying eagerness for social mobility. This drive is strengthened by the social capital of immigrant families, turning the relationship into a zero-sum game (Coleman) where more time spent on education means less time for sport. The results for majority youths are attributed to the corresponding logic of school and sports. Those habitually disposed to perform well in school, also have the cultural competencies required to be attracted by the sport logic.

Copyright © Mads Skauge & Arve Hjelseth 2021

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