The majority of existing research on the relationship between sports participation and delinquency has found that athletes are more delinquent than non-athletes. It is important to point out, though, that the majority of this research has been conducted at the high school level. Research examining this relationship at the middle school level has been extremely limited with inconsistent findings.
The purpose of this current study was to determine the relationship between school sports participation and delinquency among middle school students, while controlling for a number of important independent variables including ethnicity, socioeconomic status (SES), sense of school membership, and substance use. Quantitative survey data were collected from 770 seventh and eighth grade students in two suburban middle schools on Long Island, New York. These two middle schools were considerably different with respect to ethnicity and SES.
Data analyses included a relatively strong multiple regression model which incorporated twelve independent variables to determine the unique effects they had on the sole dependent variable of delinquency. Being a student athlete was found to have no significant, unique effect on delinquency. However, substance use (β= .45, p= .000), sense of school membership (β= -.21, p= .000), gender (β= .21, p= .00), ethnicity (β= .08, p= .01), and socioeconomic status (β= .07, p= .03) all did have significant unique effects on the delinquency of students in this study.
Of particular importance in this study is the finding that student athletes did report a significantly greater value on the sense of school membership scale than did non-athletes, and students who reported greater values on the sense of school membership scale were significantly less delinquent. However, student athletes did have higher average delinquency rates than non-athletes in this study.
It is recommended that future researchers explore the relationship between being a student athlete and sense of school membership, as the findings that student athletes feel more related to their schools but are not less delinquent warrants more empirical attention. Future research with a larger sample size which includes more middle school students from traditional minority and low SES backgrounds is also recommended.