Grit: What Athletics Have to Do With Academic Success

Chris —  June 27, 2013

SVPlayoffwinvsIC_450 croppedStudies show that “grit” predicts academic success. In today’s culture, athletics provide one of the best places to develop the quality of grit or determination.

My wife and I are in the midst of our children going to college. So articles that identify qualities which predict academic success grab our attention.

Recent research at the University of Pennsylvania shows that “grit” is an essential quality for those students who want to accomplish their academic goals. Aimee Groth reports:

What’s the best predictor of success? IQ, talent, luck?

Nope. It’s ‘grit,’ more than anything else.

Through her research at the University of Pennsylvania — and firsthand experience teaching in New York City’s public schools —psychologist Angela Duckworth has found that the ability to withstand stress and move past failures to achieve a goal is the best indicator of future success.

“What struck me was that IQ was not the only difference between my best and my worst students,” she shared in her recent TED talk. “Some of my strongest performers did not have stratospheric IQ scores. Some of my smartest kids weren’t doing so well.” (Read the rest here.)

Similarly, in his book, How Children Succeed, Paul Tough contends that “non-cognitive” traits like optimism, zest, gratitude, and grit make children (and adults) more likely to succeed.” (HT: Alex Chediak)

A New York Times article about educator Dominic Randolph also argues that character plays a key role in determining academic success. In reference to students not making the grade:

The most critical missing piece, Randolph explained . . .  is character — those essential traits of mind and habit that were drilled into him at boarding school in England and that also have deep roots in American history. “Whether it’s the pioneer in the Conestoga wagon or someone coming here in the 1920s from southern Italy, there was this idea in America that if you worked hard and you showed real grit, that you could be successful,” he said. “Strangely, we’ve now forgotten that. People who have an easy time of things, who get 800s on their SAT’s, I worry that those people get feedback that everything they’re doing is great. And I think as a result, we are actually setting them up for long-term failure. When that person suddenly has to face up to a difficult moment, then I think they’re screwed, to be honest. I don’t think they’ve grown the capacities to be able to handle that.”

Which raises the question, “How is it in our culture that children learn toughness?”

This is where I am theorizing – – and I don’t have any data to back up my theories . . .

Athletics provide one of the best opportunities for young people to learn "grit."Still, pigs taught me a lot about toughness. I grew up on a farm and there were many opportunities be pushed to the limits. When I was in grade school I was responsible for doing chores in the evening. When I carried water, the bucket handles would dig into my gloves water that I splashed  froze  on my coveralls. The wind was freezing. In the summer we baled hay until our scratched up arms ached. Growing up on a farm wasn’t that bad. But it is not an exaggeration to say that grit was not an elective.

Today,  few young people do manual labor in an agricultural setting, including farm kids! On the one hand, I don’t miss it. I am thankful my children do not have to clean the ice out of water troughs in pig pens in January with their bare fingers.  (See also Teaching Our Children to Work). Having said, that, in terms of work the most punishing thing my children did until junior high was mow the lawn. Where will they really learn grit?

In a post-agrarian culture, the best opportunity my children have had to learn “grit” is through athletic competition. It hasn’t been easy. They have broken bones, got stitched up, put on ice packs, and been taped up. They’ve lifted weights and ran laps. They’ve learned what it feels like to have a fullback run over them when they’re down by a couple of touchdowns.

Our son found out early that athletics would require a certain amount of "grit."Time will tell how much grit they’ve picked up along the way. But I don’t think there is any question that they’ve picked some up.

To be sure, there are sobering risks to consider. But there are also risks associated with never learning “grit.” An epidemic of obesity has demonstrated the risks associated with video games.

Before you comment – – -I recognize that athletics aren’t for everyone. Some children’s interest are in gardening or 4-H projects. Others learn determination playing a musical interest Those are noble endeavors that can be demanding both mentally and physically. Of course, those who read this blog know, we are encouraging gardening as well. We trust that “grit” will grow right along with the tomatoes.

What do you think? Are athletics a good way to develop grit? Or should we go back into farming?



Be Sociable, Share!

One response to Grit: What Athletics Have to Do With Academic Success

  1. Young athletes will sure to benefit if they’ll be successful. To be motivated and keep on inspiring others. Just keep on improving your skills on the field you are in. So that you’ll keep on achieving your goals.