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Playing sports at school makes people grittier and harder working

The results suggest that people can gain or lose grit throughout life.

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Unidentified boy tying Laces ready for school
The study indicated that school sports can make people grittier and more hard-working. (Oakland Images/Shutterstock)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Playing sports at school makes people "grittier" and harder working, according to new research.

It boosts the chances of achieving long-term goals - and having successful careers, say scientists.

A study found adults who took part in organized sports as children - such as football, baseball and basketball- scored higher on "grit."

The trait is a combination of passion, perseverance, courage, endurance, resilience, conscientiousness and excellence.

Lead author Dr. Emily Nothnagle said practicing drills on the pitch can improve pupils' lives - for decades.

"Kids who participate in sports learn what it is like to struggle as they learn new skills, overcome challenges and bounce back from failure to try again."

She added: "The grit they develop playing sports can help them the rest of their lives."

A third (34 percent) of those who did sports as a youngster scored high on the grit scale, compared to fewer than a quarter (23 percent) of peers who opted out or gave up.

One in four of those who never played sports (25 percent) ranked low, compared to just 17 percent of those who did. But all is not lost for adults who missed out.

Those who participated in sports during the past year showed more grit than those who didn't, said co-author Professor Chris Knoester.

Middle schoolboys and teacher running while playing rugby on the field in physical education class
(Juice Flair/Shutterstock)

The Ohio State University team analyzed National Sports and Society Survey data on almost 4,000 men and women across the US.

Grit was measured by asking participants to rate themselves on a scale of 1-5 on eight statements.

They included "I am diligent. I never give up" and "I am a hard worker." None of the statements was directly related to sports.

The findings, published in the journal Leisure Sciences, were supported by more sophisticated statistical analyses that accounted for respondents' demographic characteristics.

But it appears only children who keep at it - and play continually - get the benefit, say the researchers.

Prof Knoester said: "Adults who played youth sports but dropped out did not show higher levels of grit.

"They actually demonstrated lower levels of grit after we included a proxy measure of how sports mattered for the development of grit while growing up."

It was based on respondents' perceptions of how their athletic experience affected their work ethic.

He said: "Quitting could reflect a lack of perseverance, which is a crucial component of grit. It could also make quitting an activity, and not persevering, easier the next time."

Adults who played sports as kids generally perceived the experience helped improve their work ethic. And that perception was linked to their grit scores as adults.

But even after taking this into account, sports participation still boosted grit scores, said Dr. Nothnagle.

She said: "Sports participation seems to have improved people's development of grit even more than they realized."

Some may just be born with the grit to help them succeed at sports as a young person and then continue to benefit from that trait as an adult.

But Prof Knoester said the results suggest that people can gain or lose grit throughout life.

Adults who said they participated in sports regularly within the last year exhibited higher levels of grit.

This was regardless of whether they played sports early in life and the extent to which they felt that their athletic experiences affected their work ethic while growing up.

He said: "This additional finding about sports participation in adulthood suggests that you can build and perhaps lose grit during different points in your life. It is not a static quality."

Participants weren't asked how they participated in sports as an adult. It may be many challenged themselves through personal training or workouts, rather than in organized sports as they did as kids.

The results shouldn't be interpreted as meaning grit doesn't have a downside, said Dr. Nothnagle.

She said: "There can be issues if you use grit without some limits. An over-emphasis on applying grit in sports activities can lead some people to overtrain and injure themselves, for example."

But overall, the results suggest that along with the health and other benefits of sports, the development of grit could be another positive impact.

Prof Knoester added: "Sports offer this valuable place in society where you can work hard and practice and take it seriously, but it is also not real life to some extent.

"Typically, sports are thought of as a separate sphere of life and the stakes in sports are not as far-reaching and extreme.

"But you can take those lessons you learn and practice in sports, such as building grit, and apply them in your life outside of sports in very useful ways."

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