A few days ago I wrote about how pay to play in public schools hurts the lower and middle class students and families. The idea to use activities as a tool to balance budgets is something that has little upside and some very big downsides. One of the downsides I would like to focus on is the impact that it would have on the community.
Sports and extra-curricular activities like band and debate are additional vehicles to help teach students important life skills that can be taken into the community, and in many cases, become a source of pride for the community. Last night I had an opportunity to watch the movie McFarland with my family. If you are not familiar with the movie, it shows the sort of impact sports can have on a community. It provided a sense of belonging for the students and a sense of pride for the community.
This sense of community has many upsides for the town and community they are involved in as a whole. Darryl Hill, an advocate for youth sports, wrote in the National Journal on January 31, 2014:
I think sports are an integral part of our society, not only to the individuals who play but to the community in which they live. Sports brings kids together, it breeds understanding and racial balance. And then the young people who play are typically just better citizens top to bottom—less likely to drop out of school, do drugs, get pregnant, be touched by the law. One of the most startling statistics I've read is a study of female executives in Fortune 500 top companies [in which] upward of 90 percent had played high school sports, which speaks volumes on what sports do.
Before you think that this is just a sports fan pushing ideas without any research, I encourage to consider the studies. Several studies have reported the positive impact that sports can have for students and the communities that they live in...Sports teach people camaraderie, time management, winning and losing, balance, and teamwork, and patience, being more assertive, more aggressive. The list goes on and on. On the downside, if a kid is idle, we know where that can often lead—and not just to bad health and obesity but to other antisocial behavior. That's particularly telling in the underserved communities, but they're the ones being impacted the most by the commercialization of youth sports.
Research has shown that the longer youth play sport, the greater attachment they have to their community, according to a series of measures. Studies using data from the University of Maryland’s National Youth Survey of Civil Engagement show that sport participants, compared to those who do not participate in sport, are more likely to register to vote (66 percent versus 44 percent) and to follow the news (41 percent versus 27 percent). Studies by Eccles and Barber show that youth sport participation is positively related to adult involvement in community activities that can last a lifetime. Youth who participate in sport are more likely to make friends, including those of different races.58 Young athletes are better able to acquire emotional control, learn the value of teamwork, and exhibit initiative,59 all social skills that can contribute to a better community. However, with many of these findings, the associations could be correlative rather than causal, because youth who choose to be highly engaged in sport also may chose to be highly engaged in other community activities.
There is no question that providing opportunities for youth to play sport provides community benefit—if for no other reason than idle time can be filled with activities that are healthy and positive. For example, when Phoenix, Arizona, basketball courts and other recreational facilities were kept open until 2 a.m. during summer hours, juvenile crime dropped 55 percent.6 Similarly, crime rates dropped by 24 percent after late night recreation programs were started in Cincinnati, Ohio.When you decide to target sports and drive students from it with pay to play schemes, you hurt the student, the school and the entire community. When you claim that you don't want your tax dollars to pay for sports, then think of your tax dollars helping pay to make the community a better place.
I am not saying that every extra-curricular activity is extremely beneficial. A lot of it depends on the way the activity is done. A focus on mastery of skills and self- and team-improvement is vital to getting the best bang for the tax dollar. If that is not the case where you live, try to change that attitude instead of lashing out at all activities. Every child does not need to be the football star, but when students are able to be part of a group, then they get the chance to feel like a vital part of something. This is what we need more of; not less.