Higher-education institutions want more from prospective students than academics -- they look for well-rounded students to fill up their classes. Having sports in schools gives students an opportunity to enhance their college applications. They also can serve as a motivation for talented athletes to work hard in the classroom. Because players need to meet established standards to be admitted to college, and to be eligible to participate in sports when there, getting acceptable grades takes on more importance than it might otherwise.
Health and Opportunity
As the issue of childhood obesity takes on more prominence, sports provide a way for kids to get the exercise needed to stay in shape. It offers students the opportunity to build confidence and leadership skills, and can encourage students to spend time with other students they don't otherwise associate with. School sports can also be more affordable than those run by outside organizations, giving more students an opportunity to participate.
School sports can become a negative when they detract from the academic experience that schools are charged with providing. Extracurriculars, including sports, take time that otherwise might be devoted to studies. Schools need to be careful to monitor the amount of practice time, both official and “voluntary,” that participants are expected to devote to their sport. They also need to be sure that athletic success isn't emphasized more than academic achievement.
Competition and Risk
Along with the benefits of participating on a sports team can come pressure to win. Because word of a poor performance for a school team can spread around the classrooms quickly, the stakes may seem higher for athletes, and the possibility of failure more troubling. This pressure can have negative impacts both on and off the field. In addition, youth sports carry an injury risk, so schools can find themselves contributing to the ill health of their students. Schools with coaches that aren't trained in the proper techniques or who espouse unsafe practices can increase that risk -- for example, a soccer coach who urges his players to head the ball without properly showing his team how to do so increases the risk of concussions for his players.