Whole athlete: Adults who played sports as a child have higher levels of grit

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Do you have “grit”? If so, you most likely played sports as a kid. Researchers from The Ohio State University find that participating in organized sports as a child leads to higher levels of grit as an adult.

What is grit?

Researchers define grit “as the combination of passion and perseverance that helps people achieve their long-term goals.” They add that children learn lessons while playing sports, positively impacting them later on in life. The study revealed that adults who played sports as a kid scored higher on a measurement of grit than those who didn’t play at all or quit early on.

“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,” says lead author Emily Nothnagle, a recent Ohio State graduate, in a university release. “The grit they develop playing sports can help them the rest of their lives.”

The study analyzed data on 3,993 adults from the National Sports and Society Survey (NSASS). The volunteers participated through the American Population Panel, run by the university’s Center for Human Resource Research.

Each person completed the survey online between fall 2018 and spring 2019. They were asked to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 5 on eight statements, including “I am diligent. I never give up” and “I am a hard worker.” Importantly, none of the statements had any connection to sports.

Researchers found that 34 percent of the participants who played sports as a child scored high on the grit scale, compared to 23 percent of those who didn’t play. Only 17 percent of those who did play sports had a low grit score. Meanwhile, one in four people who never played sports when they were younger displayed low levels of grit.

“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,” explains study co-author Chris Knoester, an associate professor of sociology at Ohio State.

Do athletes have better work ethics?

Knoester notes there was also a correlation between adults who quit sports as a child and their work ethic as adults.

“Quitting could reflect a lack of perseverance, which is a crucial component of grit,” notes Knoester. “It could also make cutting an activity, and not persevering, easier the next time.”

Moreover, the study found that adults who played sports regularly within the last year showed higher levels of grit, even if they didn’t participate in sports during childhood.

“This additional finding about sports participation in adulthood suggests that you can build and perhaps lose grit during different points in your life,” says Knoester. “It is not a static quality.”

The study is published in the journal Leisure Sciences.

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