Is sports competition relevant to academic learning?

Updated: Nov 15, 2016

Man Is Going to Run

Is Sports Competition Relevant to Academic Learning?

Learning Theories and Relevance of Competitive Sport

Learning theories have significant implications in the way academic institutions facilitate learning. For instance, learning through reward and punishment is Behaviorist learning practices while learning through input and memorization of educational materials is a Cognitive-learning concept.

Similarly, the term “student-centered” learning is a Constructivist idea that people learn better, when they “construct” own knowledge and meaning. However, since the aim of applying these learning theories in a school setting is to enhance knowledge of curriculum, they do not support the kind of knowledge acquired through sports competition similar to the volleyball match where athletes with #PusoAteneo won.

Social Learning Theory is for learning social skills and therefore not academically relevant. Some literature argues that it is relevant to physical education, as such academic subject contributes to socially and morally educated citizens. The problem, however, is the fact that physical education is never for students’ social or moral development, but for learning health-related activities. Moreover, social skills and moral values allegedly developed from physical education are results rather than a facilitator of academic learning.


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Contrary to common belief, sport is not synonymous with physical education. Sports are physical activities in which adults and young people compete while physical education is a learning process prescribed by the curriculum. Although the subject often includes sports, there is no inherent necessity for physical education to foster and promote competitive behavior. Sport, therefore, is never an academic subject while competitive behavior is exclusive to sport. Overall, competition is not an objective in physical education and irrelevant to academic learning. The question is why schools are so eager about competition and spending significant time and money on their respective sports teams.

The True Benefit of Sport Competition

The study shows that participation in sport is mostly an individual decision while school-sponsored sports competition is an after-school activity. The common objective is to facilitate the skills and knowledge necessary to support a healthy and productive lifestyle. Interscholastic sport or “varsity sport” is the system of competition between schools, but remains an extracurricular activity in terms of funding.

Collegiate sports or sports competition between colleges and universities, on the other hand, are governed by private national organizations. The academic institutions, however, provide the funding and give a full scholarship to their athletes. Successful athletes in return generate a large amount of revenue for their school.

The learning benefit of sports competition appears limited to elementary and school. Sport in higher education seems more of a business strategy than learning experience. In fact, collegiate sports in North America according to author Maylon Hanold are “solidly a business” within academic institutions. Most successful teams and athletes received money from corporate sponsors and therefore always determined to win regardless of injury or being involved in cheating. The #PusoAteneo or “Heart of Ateneo” University is, therefore, referring to college athletes’ competitive spirit or the “heart of champion” that has nothing to do with physical education and academic learning.

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