Ann Arbor Executive Function Coaching: Do Extracurricular Activities improve Executive Functioning?

Dr. Lisa Woodcock-Burroughs, Ph.D., Assistant Director

Youth from many backgrounds participate in extracurricular activities such as sports, clubs, music, dance, etc. Among high school students, this participation has been linked with a host of positive outcomes such as increased academic achievement, better school attendance, engagement in fewer risk-taking behaviors, and better psychological adjustment, just to name a few. But is more always better? It depends…

According to research, conducted at the University of South Florida, high achieving students (i.e. those enrolled in AP courses or IB Programs), on average participate in three to four extracurricular activities, despite experiencing a higher level of perceived stress, when compared with peers in less rigorous classes, due to academic demands. These academic demands sometimes lead incoming freshman to decide against participating in school activities due to the need to “focus on their studies”. However, participation in just one extracurricular activity has an appreciable, and positive, impact on overall grade point average. This is something I have witnessed myself, in my work with children, teens, and young adults, on a consistent basis. Students who participate in up to nine activities continue to exhibit excellent academic performance, although more activities than this can result in a drop in GPA.

The number of hours spent involved in extracurricular activities also plays a crucial role. On average, AP/IB students spend between 10 and 19 hours engaged in extracurricular activities, considerably more than one might expect, especially as these students typically maintain excellent grades. While extracurricular involvement does take “time” away from other pursuits, it is not in the way that we would most often predict. Instead of having less time for homework, these students learn to become more efficient in utilizing their available time and also develop fine-tuned time management skills, because there is no “later” time in their schedule that studying can be completed. Students who spent five or more hours participating in extracurricular activities had much higher final exam scores than students who spent less time engaged in these activities.

Not all students learn these skills independently or as quickly as we would like. Executive function coaching can be helpful in this regard in helping students at all grade levels learn to effectively balance competing demands to achieve optimal outcomes. Executive function coaching can help students learn strategies that will help them achieve this balance, while ensuring that they continue to have time to spend with friends and “just be a kid”. For more information on Executive Function coaching, please contact us.

You may be asking yourself, does after-school employment have the same positive outcomes? Stay tuned…