Playing sports has been associated with a long list of benefits related to physical, mental and social development among youths. Now, add career longevity to that list. Kevin Kniffin, a behavioral science professor at Cornell University, along with Brian Wansink and Mitsuru Shimizu, found that people who played youth and high school sports made better employees later in life and had more career opportunities.

In their study, "Sports at Work: Anticipated and Persistent Correlations of Participation in High School Athletics," they found that not only were these former athletes more successful, but they also possessed more leadership skills, self-confidence and self respect. 

"It was also based on research that demonstrates that athletes who play in high school sports tend to earn higher salaries," says Kniffin, who started collecting research two years ago. "Previous research hadn't acknowledged why that's the case. What this paper does is help shed light on why that relationship exists."

Like many people, Kniffin suspected that playing sports correlated to greater success later in life, given the development skills associated with sports, such as working towards goals, teamwork and respect for coaches and parents. And while studies had shown that people who played high school sports tended to earn more money, no research demonstrated why. 

The study actually consisted of two parts, the first looking at the expectations and preconceptions held in regard to former athletes, while the second examined the current performance and skill sets of people who had participated in high school sports an average of 60 years ago.

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“The first part of the project, which would end up being Study 2, was using the survey of World War II vets,” Kniffin explains. “Study 2 looked at it and found significant relationships of more than five decades of people who played versus didn’t play. It found that people who played a sport demonstrated more self-confidence and leadership over 50 years later.”

Other interesting findings of the study: Adults who played sports were more likely to donate to charity, and that adults who boasted a high GMP did not show the same correlation with later success as former athletes.


Rexford Sheild is an intern for Athletic Business.