When I tell students how much time I spend each week in extracurricular dance classes, many of them tell me I’m insane. Some people think I am missing out on parties and other social events, while others say I should use that time for school work. I don’t agree. Dance has given me so many benefits that I would not have received from school alone, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that research supports my view.
The positive relationship between extracurricular activities and student success has been intensively researched. In addition, the students I spoke to who are heavily involved in extracurricular activities suggest that students who regularly participate in these activities receive many benefits including higher grades and educational achievement, increased self-confidence, enhanced leadership and teamwork skills, lower rates of drug use and alcohol consumption and reduced behavioral and disciplinary problems. A 1995 study showed that the percentage of students expected to receive their bachelor’s degree was twenty percent higher for students involved in extracurricular activities.
The skills that extracurricular activities develop are valuable to employers. A study from ManpowerGroup showed that of 2000 U.S employers, 61% believed the “soft” abilities such as “self-awareness, the ability to listen, empathy, communication, trust and emotional regulation.” will be the most sought-after and desired skills in the near future. These qualities all arise from extracurricular activities, especially when the activity involves a team.
From playing on a team, students learn to be disciplined and to cooperate to help the group. Following the rules, listening to your coach, and respecting authority are all important to building the disciplinary skills that the student will continue to use throughout their life. Teamwork creates a sense of accountability and will teach students that they are responsible for their actions. Almost all sports teams have a captain, and Vera (not her real name), the captain of a high school volleyball team in Burnaby, British Columbia, feels that her leadership and communication skills are essential on the team. “If I didn’t have the trust and support from my teammates, we wouldn’t be a very successful team,” she says. Volleyball has helped her to be more confident when put in a team or group environment which is crucial to many aspects of life, not just school. “In the future this will help me in situations where I need to step up and be a leader.”
Erin Lum, a grade 12 student at Burnaby Central High School, is heavily involved in dance outside of school and trains in all styles for many hours per week. In addition to being a dancer herself, she is the Community Activator for Danse Bloom which focuses on caring for the youth dance community in Vancouver and Montreal. Part of Lum’s job is to interview dancers to bring their valuable advice from the industry to our youth community. Erin says dance has given her excellent time management skills as she, “juggles dance, high school, work, mental health, and a social life.” She also observed that, “Working so closely with others has heightened my self awareness, social cues, and most importantly my ability to work well with others in a team environment.” It is clear that you’re not always going to be friends with everyone, whether at work or on a team, “but it is important to learn how to conduct yourself to still produce a successful outcome,” says Erin.
The thought that extracurricular activities promote excellent time management is also attested to by Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller. In an interview with Forbes, Miller reveals her secret to time management. Miller described that she used a very specific outline to balance her many obligations. “I was forced to prioritize . . . To this day, I keep a schedule that is almost minute by minute.” She goes on to recommend that others, “focus on those things that bring you further to your goal each and every day.”
Extracurricular activities also bring students with similar interests together and foster lasting friendships. When students feel accepted by a group of people, this can lead to higher self-esteem and they are more likely to want to continue with the activity. Amanda, age 17, told me, “Through theatre, I learned to work together with my peers to create something. When I was younger I was really shy and never wanted to partake in group activities. However, because of the club I don’t get nervous when I have to do group work in school.”
Extracurricular activities play a crucial role in the process of socialization of children and young adults, and contribute to the development of their personal and social awareness. These are necessary skills for young people to develop so that they can have successful personal and professional lives. The lessons students learn from participating in meaningful extracurricular activities help them with everything from getting a job, applying to universities, to just living life.
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