Medicine

Correlations between sport and science interests

ABSTRACT

Participating in sports can affect young people’s lives by influencing their interests.

A survey carried out with 500 young people showed that their subject choices and interests correlated with their sport interests. The questionnaire was designed to collect data including the age, gender, educational background and sporting experience of each participant as well as their personal motivation for participation in physical activity. Students who studied mathematical, scientific and medical subjects were found to also participate in sports.The percentage of students that chose to study Further Mathematics as a school subject is growing with the number of times a week they do sports. Explanation of this situation may lay in the ameliorating effect of physical activity on brain function, which may raise self efficacy and consequently interest in those particular subjects.

INTRODUCTION/BACKGROUND INFORMATION

In most popular models of vocational interests, sports are usually not taken into account. In the book “Exploring the Psychology of Interest” (2006) by Paul J. Silva 11 it is commented that the study of the breadth of interest is not perfect because it focuses only on, ”intellectual interests” such as art and politics but ignores common, everyday hobbies which include playing sports and watching movies. The large majority of the human population are physically active daily . Nowadays, it is common that being active is extremely important for overall health and can strongly diminish the risk of so-called civilization diseases, such as type II diabetes mellitus, hypertension or obesity. However, it may be beneficial to note that participating in sports for competitive reasons is quite different from taking part in it solely for health and fitness reasons. Competing in a junior sport that is often highly specialized and professionalized14 is a great part of many young people’s lives and, for some, it leads to a career path. Professionalisation in sport, like learning advanced techniques or managing an intensive training regime, often includes multiple applications of science, including dietetics, biochemistry, dynamics or kinetics. On the contrary, the complementary field of sport science has been created in order to work on amelioration of performance. Even though the majority of young people will steer away from a professional sports career, a huge number of young people would at least consider it as their vocational interest. That is why being a junior professional athlete usually affects future careers and life choices of the young person. The purpose of this study is to present and analyse the correlation between having a background in sports and showing interests in medical or natural sciences and mathematics.

METHOD

A survey was conducted with 500 young Polish adults between the ages of 13 and 23 years old in November 2017. 202 participants were found to be actively engaged in a sport at a junior professional level and were then classified as “Sportsmen”. Data regarding information in relation to the sports that they took part in were collected. This included their sports discipline, the number of days they practised, how long they had taken part in the sport, place and motivation, vocational and leisure interests, level of education and reasons for performing physical activity (Figure 1). Participants were asked to rate the effect of high-intensity training on their work efficiency and concentration.

Question

Answers

1.Gender

Male Female

2.Level of education

Middle School Secondary School

University Student

3.What high school subject did/will you choose to learn at an extended level?

Mathematics English Chemistry

Biology Physics Polish Literature

History Geography IT Civics Other Foreign Language Other

4.What are your interests?

Medical interests Natural sciences

IT and Mathematics Linguistic

Theatre and Literature Engineering Artistic Social sciences Geography and Travelling Other

5.How do you work out?

What sport discipline do you practice?

I train for sport competitions

I used to train competitive sport

I attend swimming,dance, fitness classes

I train when I want and I choose myself what to do

I attend physical education classes at school

I work out rarely

Other

6.How many years did you train competitive sport?

<1 1-2 2.5-4 4+

7.How many times a week are you practising physical activity?

<1 1 2-3 4-5 6+

8.Why do you work out?

To be healthy It is my hobby It helps me to deal with stress I like the people I work out with It helps me with self-improvement I want to look better Other

9.How do you feel in a hard workouts period

Hard to concentrate, because I am tired, my muscles are sore

I feel great, I am highly motivated to learn

(Figure 1: Survey format and information )

“Sportsmen” were determined depending on their experience in competitive sports and the number of workouts per week. Experience in competitive sports training has been prioritised, as it has been previously proven to affect future vocational interests [14]. Participants , who chose “I train for sport competitions” or “I used to train for competitive sports” in question 5 and a rating of at least “1-2” in question 6 or a minimum “4-5” in question 7 were classed as “Sportsmen”. If they chose another answer in question 5 but confirmed to train sports competitively for at least 2.5-4 years in question 6 they were also qualified to the “Sportsmen” group.Ultimately, 40% of participants were classified into the “Sportsmen” category. The remaining 60% were classified as “Non-sportsmen”.

RESULTS

Out of the entire study group, 48.7% chose to study maths at a higher level in high school and as many as 56% of the “Sportsmen” chose this option. Given that only 44% of “Non-sportsmen” decided to study extended mathematics in high school the difference between the two groups is considerable. This outcome argues with the popular stereotype of sports careers being solely for non-academics. However, it is not that astonishing taking into account the very complex research conducted in Naperville Central High School in Chicago8 that shows that high-intensity training enhances performance in mathematics and scientific subjects tests. It improves brain activity for abstract thinking, spatial imagination and concentration upon tackling complex problems. Better results in mathematics improve self-efficacy which can affect a student’s interest in the subject 7, 5. Moreover, self-efficacy also means that students will believe in their ability to handle tasks they are given in the process of learning mathematics and, consequently, will be more likely to choose it later down the line. Motivation induced by further progress in the subject may help maintain interest in this field. Furthermore, it has been proven that different types of sports training increase body awareness [3] which also means that high school students involved in competitive sports may choose mathematics for developing their brain such as they would perform in a sport, to support their body and mind development.

 

“Sportsmen”

Young people with a considerable amount of experience in competitive sports training

“Non-sportsmen”

Young people without any experience in competitive sports training

Interest in medicine

37.1%

23.8%

Natural sciences interest

34.2%

19.1%

Extended Mathematics as a High school subject

56%

44%

Physical activity to be healthy

51.3%

59%

Physical activity to reduce stress

67%

52.2%

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Figure 2 : Response percentage in “sportsmen” and “non-sportmen” groups

However, choosing natural sciences as a field of interest, especially medical sciences, seems to be a different case as they are connected with more than the development of logical thinking. Here, what is more important is the genuine interest, which makes it faster and easier to remember information. Izard and Ackerman 3 also stated “interest motivates exploration and learning, and guarantees the person’s engagement in the environment. Survival and adaptation require such engagement”. Physical activity may enhance memorizing as well as strengthen the interest. However, there are other factors that affect interests. For example, an interest in the text connected with a certain field2,10,13 and further might make natural sciences interesting for teenagers in sport.

Professionalizing junior sport widely described by Wiersma 14 results in a situation where young children learn some scientific facts from coaches that may improve their athletic performance. For instance, during training sessions led by a good coach, a 13-year-old teenager training in athletics will learn the correct posture to maintain, ,be educated about why and how the body stores glycogen and which meals are rich in nutrients that help them prepare for the sessions and regenerate after them. Young athletes are also encouraged to read sports literature. That is why competitive sports training can be perceived not only as a leisure activity but also as providing practical use of biology, chemistry, physics and even mathematics taught in school. Moreover, a young athlete reads science text with attention derived from not only his or her interest in the content but also the perspective of applying newly gained knowledge in training, consequently improving sports results. Prior knowledge, which is a source of interest 1, 9 gained at the sports club may also improve interest in the science field.

For these or other reasons 37.1% of “Sportsmen” admitted to being interested in medicine and 34.2% in natural sciences. In the group “non-sportsmen” only 23.8% and 19.1% chose them as one of their main interests.Based on the average number of marked fields of interests, their breadth was comparable in the “sportsmen” and “non-sportsmen” groups (average of 3.25 fields of interests). At the same time “sportsmen” chose fields such as mathematical and natural sciences.

DISCUSSION

Reasonable conclusions of the given figures may also be that the young people who claim to be interested in medicine are genuinely more aware of what is beneficial for their health and decide to do sport to maintain it. However, in the group of “sportsmen” of medical interests, 54.7% marked maintaining health as one of the reasons for doing physical activity while 55.7% of all the students taking part in the survey chose this option. On the other hand, all the injuries and diseases connected with the sport on the junior-professional level may also change the perspective of those who have tried it. That is why this outcome is not as surprising as might be thought previously. Training in competitive sports at a young age often leads to overtraining which may result in injuries, hormonal and metabolic problems and simply burn out and early quitting. Given that competitive sport is such a health risk factor, it may lead to a situation where an average sports training teenager needs to get medical help more often than a friend who does a physical activity just for fun. Being treated as a patient at childhood is a common reason for motivation to become a physician later. Such a conclusion can also support the difference between the fields of interest in the two described groups.

Another trait all three fields (medicine, natural sciences and mathematics related subjects) have in common is the competitiveness and stress connected with them. Scientific subjects are popularly known to be very demanding and difficult to master. Learning them can be very similar to a race or a game that requires stamina and strategy. Furthermore, university courses which have mathematics or scientific subjects for entry requirements often have limited spaces. As widely described in the book “Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise and the Brain” by John J. Rathey 8, intensive exercise has a big impact on reducing stress by balancing the levels of serotonin and cortisol. It also helps to manage stress by putting a young person in “out of comfort sphere” situations during numerous competitions and tournaments. The fact that 52.2% of students without professional sports training marked that they engage in physical activity to reduce stress and this option was chosen by 67% of “Sportsmen” indicated the possible influence of regular training on future life, raising self-confidence and awareness of the ability to cope with stress that sports give. Similarly, 72% “sportsmen” interested in medicine have chosen this option. The large difference between groups implies that participants from the ‘sportsmen’ group are more aware of the positive effect of the physical activity on stress. Sport helps the youth to control their emotions, by teaching them to control their anxiety, described by McMahon et al.6. These skills may affect their choice of a potentially stressful job as physicians, entrepreneurs, scientists or engineers.

In the described observations of connections between sport and scientific interests, it is important that the connection derives not only from the physiological effects of sport on the human body but also emotional bonds with the practised discipline. It often leads to the need for self-development and learning to find aims and motivation. Those factors make the difference between sport and leisure physical activity. However it can also affect a person’s interests.

The following charts present the percentage of people interested in the described subjects and working out for reasons earlier described compared with average exercise sessions a week.

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Figure 3 : Interests depending on the amount of training sessions per week

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Figure 4: Reasons of doing sport depending on the amount of training sessions per week

The first chart shows no major difference between medical and scientific interests of students depending on the factor of how many times they work out per week. However, a strong growth can be seen in the percentage of students choosing extended mathematics in high school as the number of exercise sessions a week grows. This fact is supported by previous evidence which suggests that exercise provides better mathematical thinking. Higher maths ability, as previously said, may encourage a student to choose this subject for further learning. Six times a week, however, appears to be a little too much to optimize students progress and self-efficacy in maths. Six and more training sessions per week take a lot of time which can start to significantly minimise the time spent on learning and developing vocational interests other than a professional athlete career. Additionally, overtraining – which is common in professionally training young athletes – may lead to concentration loss, affecting self-efficacy levels 15.

The second graph was used to compare how often those who exercise to reduce stress compares to those that do it for health reasons. The largest percentage for students that train 4-5 times a week marked reducing stress as a reason for activity while for those who have 2-3 exercise sessions a week it was to stay healthy. This may lead to the conclusion that young people need more physical activity per a week in order to reduce stress rather than to stay healthy. Stress can be a stronger motivation to be active.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, there are grounds to believe that training sport for competitive reasons can influence a young person’s vocational interests, pushing them into choosing medical, scientific and mathematics connected studies and other related occupations.

The format of the survey, which was an internet questionnaire allowed, to collect many answers. It was sent to a pre-selected group of people, from different socioeconomic backgrounds, however the group could be better compared with the general society.

The data gives a chance to compare if the results vary depending on the sex or age of a person. Furthermore, it can be pursued in various ways, such as through understanding cognitive benefits of exercise and how exercise, stress and cognitive performance are correlated. I think the direction worth pursuing is investigating how interests develop throughout an individual’s life, observing people from “sportsmen ” and “non-sportsmen” group for a longer time period. I believe that one of the most important questions to be answered is whether exercise helps to improve the performance in certain educational areas or whether the educational experience induces the choice to exercise or not exercise.

REFERENCES

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  3. Izard, C. E., Ackerman, B. P. (2000). Motivational, organizational, and regulatory functions of discrete emotions. InM. Lewis & J. M. Haviland-Jones (Eds.),Handbook of emotions(2nd ed., pp. 253–264). New York: Guilford
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  7. Nauta, M. M., Kahn, J. H., Angell, J. W., & Cantarelli, E. A. (2002). Identifying the antecedent in the relation between career interests and self-efficacy: Is it one, the other, or both? Journal of Counseling Psychology, 49, 290–301.
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  15. Stone M. H.; Keith, R. E.; Kearney, J. T.; Fleck, S. J.; Wilson, G. D.; Triplett, N. T., APA , Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: February 1991 – Volume 5 – Issue 1 – p 35-50

About the author 

Maria is a future medicine student. She decided to take a gap year between her study to gain experience and broaden her horizons. Every adventure gives her inspiration and motivation to explore. She strongly believes that you can never be curious enough.

 

One thought on “Correlations between sport and science interests

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