Athletic Capital and Why It Matters

By Jessica Skolnikoff and Robert Engvall/School Administrator, August 2015   

wrestlerAthletic capital is like economic capital. If you have it, you can spend it to make your life easier. If you don’t, some of the decisions you face are more difficult.

Those who accumulate athletic capital may have a more comfortable experience in school than those who don’t. When the physical education teacher asks a student to perform an athletic endeavor, those who are blessed with that capital are able to perform, but those who aren’t must find a way to finesse the situation.

Surely, academic capital is even more valuable in school. Having a natural ability in any subject area benefits the student as she or he navigates through the school environment. Students with athletic capital are able to spend that capital in various ways, such as by becoming members of athletic teams and experiencing the accompanying positive attention or by not needing to worry about embarrassing themselves in phys-ed class. Of course, many roads to success do not include athletic capital, but in middle school and high school, those roads can be filled with potential potholes that are more easily avoided by those with athletic capital.

Just as teachers come to depend on academically high-achieving students to enhance class discussions and serve as role models for other students, those with high athletic capital are a valuable resource to phys-ed teachers. They also achieve acclaim for themselves and their schools, with local newspapers reporting much more about athletic success than academic success. Even when a math, music, debate or drama club achieves some level of acclaim, the achievement seldom attracts media coverage. While community members may recognize the name of the starting quarterback, few have any idea of the names of students achieving success outside of athletics or even the name of the valedictorian.

Change on this front isn’t likely anytime soon and might not even be necessary. Success of student athletes and the athletic capital they build can help improve the in-school environment every bit as much as academic and other co-curricular accomplishments might. Just as taking pride in your work product tends to produce a better work product, so too does taking pride in your school environment. Though often mocked by Hollywood in the form of a trivial pep rally, school pride is a real entity that can help build a feeling of community within the school that also reaches far beyond its walls.