Ivy Hoops Plus: Q&A with Cornell visiting assistant professor Kevin Kniffin

We present a new feature, Ivy Hoops Plus, in which we shine a light on the many impactful works that those in the Ivy League are doing off the court, whether they”re Ivy academics conducting sports-related research, former basketball players embarking on noteworthy projects, or anything else that merits checking in on.

First up is Kevin Kniffin (@KevinKniffin), visiting assistant professor of organizational behavior and leadership at Cornell. Kniffin coauthored a 2015 study in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, “Sports at Work: Anticipated and Persistent Correlates of Participation in High School Athletics,” which examines whether former high school athletes make better employees than nonathletes. The study found that former student-athletes are expected to possess relatively greater leadership ability as well as more self-confidence and self-respect than others, and that participation in competitive youth sports results in demonstrated higher-status careers. Perhaps most importantly, the study found that there is a troubling lack of studies focusing on the effects of youth sports participation, suggesting that sports participation”s impact on the workplace need to be further examined as well.

Let”s hear from Kniffin after the jump…

Ivy Hoops Online: What prompted this study? 

Kevin Kniffin: Given that approximately 43 percent of high school students in the United States participate in athletics, there is surprisingly little research that”s been done on the longer-term impacts of youth sports participation.  Economists have previously found that former high school athletes tend to be paid more (controlling for other variables) but they have not examined why that relationship exists.  In our new article in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, my co-authors and I find that the traits of leadership, self-confidence and self-respect appear to account for part of the sports-and-salary connection.

IHO: Why do you think there has been a dearth of systemic studies on the relevance of participation in youth sports, and do you anticipate greater focus being placed on this topic in the near future?

KK: It”s tough to say, but there is a history of sports being considered too trivial to warrant “serious” scholarly attention. I think that”s changing partly as a function of sports — and sports media — becoming an increasingly big global business.

IHO: Is it reasonable to assume that the advantages that you found come with competitive youth sports also come with any youth activities that promote prosocial behaviors?

KK: Good question and there is research looking at the positive lifelong lessons associated with activities like learning a musical instrument.  With that as background, though, it is interesting that one of the studies in best online casino our new article compares ratings assigned to people who played either high school sports or other traditional extracurricular activities — band and yearbook — and there were significantly higher scores provided to the former student-athletes with respect to expected levels of leadership, self-confidence, and self-respect.

IHO: How can you get this study to potential managers and employees alike who could benefit from the knowledge that competitive youth sports enables one for higher levels of leadership?

KK: As we cite in the article, many employers already make a habit — for better or worse — of informally considering whether potential applicants or promotion-candidates have a history of sports participation.  It”s also interesting that if you look at popular news articles about leading executives, they will often describe participation in youth athletics as an environment where they learned important lessons about leadership in organizations.  Through Twitter, I”ve been flagging these kind of articles over the past year and it”s been interesting to see the relatively high frequency.

IHO: Are you working on any follow-up studies on the impact of youth sports participation, or other subjects connected to this one?

KK: Yes. Among other avenues, I”m presently working on a project that examines the degree to which there are behavioral and attitudinal differences between students who play sports that are either team-oriented or individual-oriented.  It”s a natural extension of the article that we published earlier this year since it”s looking at a question that”s slightly finer grained.

IHO: Is there anything else you’d like to add about this study and its implications?

KK: One of the takeaways for this new article is that there appear to be strong returns on investment for participation in competitive youth athletics.  While this analysis should be helpful for current students as well as school administrators, the findings also offer encouragement and positive feedback to parents who commit their own time and, often, money to help their children participate in sports.  Parents who sometimes wonder whether it”s worth it can look to our research article as a basis for supporting their children”s athletic development since the studies show important spillovers to non-athletic traits that are prized in today”s labor market.