New study on athletic coach mentors and academic success

Christensen, K. M., Raposa, E. B., Hagler, M. A., Erickson, L. & Rhodes, J. E. (in press). The role of athletic coach mentors in promoting youth academic success: Evidence from the Add Health National Longitudinal Study. Applied Developmental Science.

Summarized by Rachel Thompson

Notes of Interest: Coaches can serve multiple functions – they can encourage youth to succeed both athletically and academically. Findings from this study provide valuable information about the unique influence of coach mentors on youths’ later academic outcomes, and provide insights on the associations between youth sociodemographic characteristics and coach mentorship.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Organized sports are among the most common youth activities in the United States, and athletic coaches can often become important mentors to their players. Nonetheless, few studies have examined the characteristics of youth who form mentoring relationships with coaches and whether such relationships are associated with later academic outcomes. This study utilized data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to address these gaps in the literature. Gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and parent marital status were associated with coach mentorship. Coach mentorship was associated with high school and college completion, even after controlling for sports participation and academic grades. Findings highlight the formative role that coach mentors can play in adolescents’ academic success and suggest that differential access to this resource may have long-term consequences for youth.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Clearly, coaches have a particular salience in promoting academic success. Overall, these findings build on past research indicating the beneficial effects of sports involvement on youth academic engagement (Eccles & Barber, 1999; Fraser-Thomas et al., 2005; Van Boekel et al., 2016; Yeung, 2015). However, results suggest that mentorship from a coach appears to be influential above and beyond the benefits youth gain from simply participating in sport activities. Moreover, coach mentors appear to have an impact on academic persistence when co-varying for baseline academic grades, suggesting that it is not merely the best students who both connect with coach mentors and go on to succeed academically. Given that coach mentorship was associated with academic success even when compared to other types of natural mentors, sports contexts may be particularly powerful contexts for youth to develop social capital and skillsConsistent with Rhodes’ (2005) model of mentoring, our findings suggest that coaches may be playing a critical role in developing youths’ identity, social-emotional, and cognitive skills that also help lead to academic success. Future studies should investigate what functions coach mentors serve during adolescence that in turn play such a critical role in promoting academic outcomes. This can be accomplished by directly examining whether the academic benefits of coach mentorship are explained by youths’ development of executive skills such as self-regulation, discipline, and time management. Particularly given the impact of coach mentors on academic outcomes, it is important to consider the potentially far-reaching implications of policies that restrict access to sports participation for certain kinds of youth.


This article is in press, Applied Developmental Science.