Student achievement in Academic and Sports

Before joining NYP as a full time staff, I was fortunate to be involved with national athletes while working part time at Singapore Sports Council which is now Singapore Sports Institute. It gave me a chance to come into contact with the athletes at the highest level in Singapore. Some of the national athletes are doing well in their jobs and have achieved good academic results. I was also fortunate to go into coaching distance runners and I have been coaching the NYP’s long distance runners for the past four years..

While teaching in NYP, I have encountered students in my class who are representing NYP in badminton, basketball, swimming, kickboxing, dragon boat, soccer, hockey, floorball and tchoukball. Some are doing well academically while some come to class tired, not able to focus and often fall asleep in class. Majority of athletes who are weak academically, do make it an effort to improve on their studies. With so much benefits exemplified in sports, it intrigued me to figure out what makes the difference between students who can excel in both sports and academics and students who do not. If the difference can be identified, than the question is whether there are interventions as educators to help those who are weak in their studies to improve. If sports do benefit academic excellence, how then should we encourage the students to participate in sporting activities. There is much to learn from the link of sports and academic education.

Advantages of Sports
Fejgin, N. (1994) did a study on a research carried out on American National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) with a sample of 1052 schools and 26,432students  from the 8th to 10th of grade in 1988. The research suggests that Sports has the positive effects on grades, self-concept, locus of control and educational aspirations. The research also suggests a decrease in disciplinary problems. The author states that the impact of sports on grades, self-concept, locus of control and discipline is greater than the effects from family income, parents’ education, gender or race.

The research also suggest that the higher the level of competition the students partake in, the better the grades, educational aspirations, self-concept, locus of control and discipline. It is thought that sports brings about character building in terms of building basic values in life ie. competition, determination, fair play and achievement.
Interestingly enough, Fejgin, N. (1994) found that participation in academic clubs have similar effects as participation in sports where both groups have better grades, higher educational aspirations. The participants in academic clubs had better discipline while the participants in sports had better self-concept with both doing good in both areas. Both the groups did better than creative clubs (music, drama), student self manage clubs (student council, school paper) and other activity clubs (hobbies).

Fejgin, N. (1994) attributed the possible reasons to the better achievements by participants in sports to competition, recognition of achievement, adhering to rules/regulations while training in sports.

Fejgin, N. (1994) also argued that schools should reorganize academia to operate like sports teams as sports brings about general benefits and teach students universal norms by competing against external competitors unlike competing among student in the same school in the academic environment.

Eccles, J. S. & Barber, B. L. (1999) in their research found that participation in team sports brought about better GPA. Athletes are also more likely to like school and attend college compared to non-athletes.

Makel, M. (2011) who studied high academic ability students reported that academically talented students have a higher participation rates in sports and these students spend less time on watching TV and working after school hours.

Disadvantages of Sports

Fejgin, N. (1994) quoted zero sum theory in its research which is concerned with time spent in sports may divert attention from academic work.

Eccles, J. S. & Barber, B. L. (1999) in their research found that there is also has an increase in risky behaviours such as smoking and drinking. I find similarities in some team sports in Singapore. This is probably due to the culture cultivated in the respective sports. 

There are 2 categories of NYP students whom I engage with:
1. Students I teach Mathematics and
2. Athletes I coach in the long distance running team. 

The athletes that I coach are doing pretty well. A few have GPA’s of 4 and are on the directors’ list in the different schools in NYP. One has even obtained a scholarship from the Ministry of Health to continue to do a degree in Australia after she completed her studies in NYP. 

There are some of my Mathematics' students who are not doing well academically but are active in sports. This may be due to the students overtraining and emphasizing too much in sports and not spending enough time in their studies. Some do not transfer the learning ability in sports to the classroom, while others have poor time management. Most of them however are competitive in nature. Thus one of the ways to help them improve is to make them set attainable goals and plan their study time. Class activity that involves competition will also motivate this group of students.  It is also important for the sports coaches to recognize and emphasize the importance of studies. In some secondary schools in Singapore, students are not allowed to take part in CCA if they do not meet certain standards in their grades. I would however rather use the carrot (reward) approach rather than the stick (punishment) approach in encouraging performing in both sports and academics. Most athletes are just happy being recognized for their improvement in their studies without the need of material rewards. Intrinsic motivation should be encouraged and developed.

I emphasize the importance of studies to the athletes I coach. It is possible to achieve athletic performance and doing well academically at the same time. A fit athlete is able to concentrate for longer periods of time, provided the athletes do not overdo their athletic training. Students relate better if they have seen others in the same shoes who have done well in both aspects. I brought in an athlete whom I coached previously when he was still a medical student in NUS who is now a doctor to give a talk to my athletes. He held the second fastest time in Singapore for the half marathon in 2010. He shared his experience with my athletes on how he managed both studies and sports. Lim Heem Wei who is a graduate from the School of Business in NYP, also gave a talk to the athletes. She also talked about her experience as the first and currently the only gymnast from Singapore who qualified on merit for the Olympics and participated in the Olympics(London 2012). She is now pursuing her business degree in NUS and has just started her own gymnastics school "Olympic Dreams Gymnastics". She shared that she was grateful to be in the Singapore system where academic studies are emphasized as she has more options when she finish competing in sports compared to full time athletes from other countries such as China and Russia. The full time athletes from China also marveled at how Heem Wei can manage both and do well at both at the same time. This has motivated the NYP athletes who attended her talk in not only breaking and improving on the school athletics records but also improving on their GPA.
I conducted a one day mentoring program for the athletes where part of the program is to do goal setting. To my surprise all the participants of the talk indicated that their goal is to get a GPA of 3 and above. This was done without me interfering with their goal setting process. The athletes who do well in sports encourages the weaker ones in the team while those in the team who has high GPAs motivate those who do not. We as educators just need to recognize both achievements and it will go a long way in encouraging the athletes in achieving in both their sporting performance and academic results.

Research has shown that there is a link between participation in sports or academic clubs and doing well in academic studies. Thus more should be done to encourage student participation in this area so as to help improve their academic results. From an article in the Strait Times in 2008, the percentage of students from MOE schools passing NAPFA has been increasing from 58% in 1992 to 80% in 2007 (Tan, J. , 2008). The passing rate in all the polytechnics are currently below 50% for final year (Year 3) male student eligible of National Service. This may be due to the students not having a formal physical education (PE) classes in year 1 and year 2 in NYP. The students doing the PFP (Poly Foundation Program) do have PE lessons. If PE lessons are not feasible, optional mass participation fitness activity that students can be encouraged to participate throughout the academic year. An example is a jogging club where CCA points can be awarded to the participants as compared to the current situation where only competitive athletes are given CCA points. 

I have students who were overweight since primary school but when entering the polytechnic, they decided to lose weight. It could be just the right age where the brain is better developed and they are better able to set personal goals and have the motivation to achieve them. They lost weight by controlling their diet and started exercising. I started a project to get interested students who are overweight to try losing weight through proper nutrition and exercise. I am keen to see if the academic results improve as they lose weight. I have not reach the stage where I can report the results and hopefully I get a chance to finish it.

There is probably no one concerted method but a combination of methods that needs to be applied to help the students succeed in both sports and academics. In an academic setting, coaches have to wear two hats which is to obtain results in sporting events and also to help encourage students to do well in their studies.   


  • Eccles, J. S. & Barber, B. L. (1999). Student Council, Volunteering, Basketball or Marching Bands: What kind of Extracurricular Involvement Matters? Journal of Adloescents Research 14(1):16-38 in Yiannakis, A., & Melnick, M. J. (2001). Contemporary issues in sociology of sport (Rev. ed.). Champaign, IL: 

  • Fejgin, N. (1994). Participation in High School Competitive Sports: A Subversion of School Mission or Contribution to Academic Goals? Sociology in Sports Journal 11:219  in Yiannakis, A., & Melnick, M. J. (2001). Contemporary issues in sociology of sport (Rev. ed.). Champaign, IL:Human Kinetics.

  • Makel, M. (2011). High-Ability Students’ Time Spent Outside the Classroom. Journal Of Advanced Academics, 22(5), 720-749.

  • Silliker, S. T. (1997). The effect of extracurricular activity participation on the academic performance of male and female High School Students. School Counselor, 44(4), 288.

  • Tan, J. (2008-07-01), "Today's NSmen – more fit but less tough?", The Straits Times: 1–2


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