The Social Bond: Academic Fulfillment throughout Adolescence

Casey L. Biancur



             In an attempt to prepare parents on methods to improve their children's overall chances of success in life, it is important to examine the factors that lead to academic success and fulfillment. Hirschi's social bonding theory (1969) highlights key components that facilitate greater accomplishments in life. Although this is a commonly researched theory, little is known regarding the factors that contribute to the scholastic success rate for students who participate in extracurricular activities. Even though there is a known correlation between athletic participation and scholastic fulfillment, it is not understood which variables contribute to this phenomenon. In this paper I attempt to address the factors that encourage the success rate for students to increase. First, it is important to determine the connection between attachment to family and satisfaction from school. Second, involvement in school must be explored to reveal any relationship it has with school fulfillment. It is also important to consider whether these variables are affected by a person's sex, race, or age. Finally, I discuss the findings of this research as well as the flaws and possible direction for future studies. By understanding the variables that have a positive influence on the overall achievement of adolescents, we can begin to put into action a plan that will help children to have a better chance at success in life.



            In today's world, adolescents are faced with many obstacles that interfere with their academic success and overall satisfaction with learning. Young persons encounter distractions that may not have been as prevalent when their parents were teenagers. In addition to the typical issues that all youths face that can include changes in physical development, appearance, and emotional maturity; there are modern challenges that can disrupt children's educational achievement and participation.

            Little is known regarding the correlation between athletic participation and scholastic fulfillment. Although some research suggests students who participate in extracurricular activities are more likely to attend college and earn more as an adult, few studies have been conducted to explain the reasons for greater success among student athletes (Bishop et. al. 2003). After further examination of high school students, I will clarify unseen elements that will better explain the relationship between athletic involvement and educational gratification.

            Overall, the purpose of this analysis is to discover what stimulates teenagers to make every effort to attain academic success. I will examine the motivating factors that fuel students to strive for greater achievements. I will also look at the contentment of students who do not take part in team sports. Through theoretical explanation, I hope to shed light on key factors that may help parents to better prepare their children for greater achievements in life.

Bonding Theory

            Perhaps the theory that best explains students' academic performance is the social bonding theory. Travis Hirschi's social bonding theory attempts to argue that strong attachments to society prevent deviation (Chriss 2007). According to Hirschi (1969) 'there are several dimensions to the social bond (1) attachment, the social and emotional ties with others that embody normative expectations, (2) commitment, the investment of time, energy, and self in a certain line of activity with deviation from that activity being a rational calculation of the consequences, (3) involvement, the engrossment in conventional activities, which leaves no time for engagement in behavior that contradicts the institution's goals, and (4) belief, the faith in some legitimate value system within society from which the deviant violates' (Berends 1995). To summarize, the more involved a person is with conventional society and the more committed that person becomes, the more attached they become with others, ultimately feeling a sense of responsibility. This accountability then discourages deviance.

            Blackwell (2003) explained that even though Hirschi did not examine specific causal ordering of the different elements in his test of social bonding theory, tests have since been conducted that place attachment of parents before peer attachment. This suggests that a child's academic success may be greater influenced by the support of parents rather than just their friends. Although, it is likely that both parents and peers play a role in the success of a student.

Literature Review

            Even though studies have been conducted regarding the correlation between students who participate in sports and academic achievement, little is known concerning the factors that contribute to the success of student athletes. Yet, according to Bishop (2003, p.141), American parents say that 'if forced to choose, they would prefer their sons or daughters to make C grades and be active in extracurricular activities rather than make A grades and not be active.' This decision to sacrifice top grades for athletic participation demonstrates the importance parents place on extracurricular activities. By placing value on athletics, parents make an attempt to teach their children that becoming a well-rounded individual is imperative in order to achieve academic success. Bishop (2003, p.141) also found that 'students who participate in sports during high school do spend more time doing home work and less time watching TV, are less likely to drop out of high school, are more likely to attend college, and earn 3 to 11 percent more as an adult.' It is understandable by these statistics that parents would encourage their children to engage in sports.

Athletic Participation and Scholastic Fulfillment

            Previous studies have found a correlation between athletic participation and scholastic fulfillment. Athletic participation in this context is referring to a student's involvement in a school sponsored team sport. Scholastic fulfillment is the overall academic success achieved and happiness experienced while enrolled in school. These variables play a role in students' overall success rate once they graduate.

            Schneider (2003) explains that one tactic high school students use to make themselves more desirable to colleges and universities is to participate in extracurricular activities. Now, more than ever, there is a long list of options for young people to choose from when deciding which extracurricular to participate in (Schneider 2003). Colleges welcome well-rounded individuals into the world of higher education. Candidates these institutions seek are able to maintain a high grade point average while participating in sports.

            In order to ensure academic success among students, most high schools enforce a grade point average requirement that must be met in order to participate in sports. Not only is an overall GPA set to a standard, but weekly checks are sometimes utilized prior to games to ensure the student is eligible to participate. With such standards in place, students learn the value of maintaining good grades.

Motivating Factors for Good Grades

            There are many factors that motivate young people today to strive for success both on and off the playing field. As defined by Silva and Weinberg, motivation is the intensity and direction of behavior (Gaston-Gayles 2005). Mediocrity is unacceptable for many young people who have a dream of success. There is a greater understanding of the importance of working hard to achieve greatness. Schneider (2003, p.55) states that 'not only do most teenagers hold high occupational aspirations, but they also have high educational expectations.' She also says that high goals are made by all ethnic and economic groups (Schneider 2003). Aspirations are not limited to the privileged.

            As explained by Schneider (2003), it is essential for child development to have ambitions to motivate adolescents into exerting their effort in a positive and useful manner. Past research shows that one way to forecast a student's social mobility is to investigate how much education a student intends to obtain. The more schooling an adolescent is determined to attain, the more likely they will complete higher levels of education. Because of ambition, students stay motivated to focus on reaching goals (Schneider 2003).

Socializing Benefits

Many young adults find fulfillment in participating in team sports and activities throughout their years in high school because it gives them an opportunity to socialize and connect with their peers. It is this bonding that helps teenagers find more enjoyment from school, which can lead to better performance academically. Teenagers who participate in team sports are more likely to enjoy their time at school; therefore, performing better academically.

Precedent research conducted by Bishop et. al. (2003, p.146) has found that 'school norms influence peer harassment, student engagement in school, how students choose their crowd, and why crowds and schools have the norms that they have.' Conformity is practically essential in order to be accepted into a group. Typically student athletes, sometimes referred to as jocks, are at the top of the status hierarchy. This position is likely to build confidence among those who belong to this group. With higher levels of self-esteem, these young adults may be more aggressive in working hard to meet their goals (Bishop et. al. 2003).

Likelihood of Attaining Professional Status

One of the key factors for students who participate in extracurricular activities is the hope to obtain a college scholarship based on athletic ability (Peltier and Laden 1999). For adolescents that come from low-income households, a scholarship is often their only opportunity to attend college. For many of these teenagers, a scholarship is not the only goal they have in mind. Many student athletes who come from low-income families have aspirations to go on to play professional sports.

Unfortunately, the dream that many athletes have of playing for a professional sports team is less attainable than some might think. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCM), the chances for playing professional sports are slim.

*       This nation has nearly one million high-school football players and about 500,000 basketball players. Of that number, about 150 make it to the NFL and about 50 make an NBA team.

*         Less than three percent of college seniors will play one year in professional basketball.

*       The odds of a high-school player making it to the pros at all- let alone having a career- are about 6,000 to 1: the odds for a high-school basketball player- 10,000 to 1 (Peltier and Laden 1999).

Considering these statistics, it is more realistic that athletics participation be a tool towards receiving a degree as opposed to gaining a career in sports.

Causes of Failure

            Not all students in America gain the education they have the potential to obtain. Many factors contribute to a lack of educational fulfillment among some young adults. According to Bishop (2001), 62 percent of tenth graders who participated in a longitudinal survey agreed that they did not like to do more work than what was required of them. With this mentality, students risk being underprepared if they so decide to try and further their education. It is likely that they may have difficulty gaining acceptance to a reputable school, thus challenging their potential for success.

            Some teachers, accepting the students' lack of effort, ask little of their classes. Bishop (2001) reveals that teachers are aware of how the students feel about school work and make adjustments to accommodate them just to maintain enrollment levels. This lowered expectation hurts the children's chances of academic achievement.

However, for teachers who push their students harder and raise the expected standards, consequences sometimes follow. Whether it is pressure from the students, parents, or the administrators, teachers are often persuaded to ease up on the students when it comes to a rigorous academic agenda. In fact, thirty percent of American teachers say they have experienced pressure to give students higher grades than they actually deserve; as well as, coercion to reduce the amount of homework assigned (Bishop 2001).

 Contentment Levels of Non-Participants

For students who focus on their studies and choose not to participate in extracurricular activities, high school may be quite a different experience compared to those who join team sports. These adolescents may have a difficult time creating bonds with peers. It may be a challenge for them to socialize with others of their age group. A 1996 study conducted by Laurence Steinberg, B. Bradford Brown, and Sanford M. Dornbusch found that 'less than five percent of all students are members of a high-achieving crowd that defines itself mainly on the basis of academic excellence - of all the crowds the 'brains' were the least happy with who they are - nearly half wished they were in a different crowd (Bishop 2001). 


            Throughout this study I hope to discover how athletics contribute to accomplishing scholarly achievements. Is happiness attained through sport participation, peer bonding, parental interaction, or do each of these variables play a role in an undergraduate's hopes for success? It is undeniable that involvement in extracurricular activities has a function in the world of academia. More participation in team sports leads to greater satisfaction from school and higher academic achievement. Also, respondents with greater family and peer bonds are more likely to have greater scholastic success.



            The source of the data collected for this study was the Kentucky Youth Survey. This survey contained information gathered from students in grades 6 to 12 with a sample size of 1500 respondents. The survey was intended to find out students' behavior regarding activities such as using drugs and alcohol; as well as, delinquent tendencies. Other results found in the survey include attitude towards school, family involvement, peer behaviors, and academic ambition (Wilcox and Clayton 2001).

Measurement of Variables

IV: Attachment

            In order to measure the degree of attachment the youths experienced, they were asked questions regarding the support they receive from their families. The questions ranged from, 'how often my parent(s) understand me' to 'how often I share my thoughts and feelings with my parents' (Wilcox and Clayton 2001). Participants' answers were based on a Likert scale. The answers varied from 1 ('never') to 4 ('most of the time'). I created an additive scale using seven items (=   ) with higher scores indicating higher attachment (see Appendix A).

IV: Involvement

            As a way to determine high school athletic involvement, students were asked a variety of   direct questions associated with participation. These questions determined how often respondents were involved in physical activities ranging from 1 ('none') to 5 ('everyday'). For this variable, I produced an additive scale with a 4-item scale (=   ) with higher scores representative of higher involvement (see Appendix B).

DV: Satisfaction from School

            To measure students' satisfaction from school and overall scholastic fulfillment, they were asked a series of questions based on a four-item Likert scale ranging from 1 ('strongly agree') to 4 ('strongly disagree'). The inquiries made were related to the importance of school, opinions on school rules, contentment with faculty, and overall satisfaction from their scholastic environment. With these responses, I produced an 8-item scale (=    ) to determine satisfaction from school (see Appendix C).

<Table 1>


            In an effort to ensure accuracy throughout this analysis in determining teens' satisfaction from learning related to athletic participation, I have included control variables. The following were used to help avoid spuriousness: sex, race, and age (see Table 1).


            Table 1 shows the descriptive statistics for the study variables. The mean age for this study is 14.07. Table 2 illustrates the bivariate relationship among the variables in this study. Most important to highlight are the significant relationships between both attachment and involvement to satisfaction from school. Therefore, attachment to family and involvement in school proved to have a significant relationship to overall satisfaction from school at the bivariate level.

<Table 2>

            To test the effects of attachment and involvement on satisfaction while controlling for age, race, and sex, I utilized ordinary least squares (OLS) regression models for each outcome variable. As shown in Table 3, satisfaction was significantly related to attachment and involvement. In other words, when there was a greater level of attachment to family, there was an increase in the overall satisfaction from school. Likewise, when there was an increase in the amount of participation and involvement in school activities, then the satisfaction also improved. In Table 3 there is also a significant negative relationship found between a person's age and the amount of satisfaction they get from school. Yet, there was no significance when it came to the control variables sex and race.

<Table 3>


            Consistent with the hypothesis, involvement in team sports and attachment to family and peers is significantly related to overall scholastic success and fulfillment. My findings that significant relationships were observed lead me to conclude that more can be done by parents and academic institutions to implement a strategy to improve the possibility of success for children. By understanding the variables that have a positive influence on the overall achievement of adolescents, then a plan that will help children to have a better chance at success in life can begin to be put into action.

            Future research should investigate what other factors affect a student's satisfaction from school. Such research may also explore the variables that decrease an adolescence scholastic satisfaction. This may lead to creating new curriculum that promotes the success of every student regardless of their educational difficulties. If successful, such focus on the satisfaction and fulfillment from learning may make an impact globally.

            Another option for future studies would be to replicate this research using different samples. Because this study utilized a sample from the state of Kentucky, it may be interesting to see if similar results would be achieved when using a more diverse national sample. Although the sample was limited geographically, the advantages of using this sample outweighed its shortcomings. Regardless, a more representative sample would provide further backing for these findings.

            Overall, I was able to provide sufficient evidence that attachment and involvement are related to overall satisfaction from school. Also, my findings offer support to Hirschi's bonding theory. By continuing to explore this topic further, there is a possibility to greatly benefit children and improve their academic success.


Works Cited

Berends, Mark. "Educational Stratification and Students' Social Bonding to School." British Journal of Sociology of Education (1995): 327-351.

Bishop, John H., Matthew Bishop, Lara Gelbwasser, Shanna Green, and Andrew Zuckerman. "Nerds and Freaks: A Theory of Student Culture and Norms." Brookings Papers on Education Policy (2003).

Blackwell, Brenda Sims. "Power-Control and Social Bonds: Exploring the Effect of Patriarchy." Criminal Justice Studies (2003): 131-152.

Chriss, James J. "The Functions of the Social Bond." The Sociological Quarterly (2007): 689-712.

Gaton-Gayles, Joy L. "The Factor Structure and Reliability of the Student Athletes' Motivation toward Sports and Academics Questionnaire (SAMSAQ)." Research in Brief (2005): 317-327.

John H. Bishop, Matthew Bishop, Lara Gelbwasser, Shanna Green, and Andrew Zuckerman. "Nerds and Freaks: A Theory of Student Culture and Norms." Brookings Papers on Education Policy (2003): 141-199.

Laden, Gary L. Peltier and Rita. "Do High School Athletes Succeed in College: A Review of Research." High School Journal (1999): 234-239.

Schneider, Barbara. "Strategies for Success: High School and Beyond." Brookings Papers on Education Policy (2003): 55-79.

Wilcox, P. and R. Clayton. "A Multilevel Analysis of School-based Weapon Possession." Justice Quarterly (2001): 18: 509-541.


Table 1. Descriptive Statistics for Study Variables



                                                                                                                Descriptive Statistics 

Variable                                                                                                 Metric                                                                                                                     Mean        S.D.       Range

 Attachment                                                                                             (7= low attachment, 28=high attachment)                                                           22.27                  4.95       7-28


 Involvement                                                                                           (4= low involvement, 20=high involvement)                                                      10.05                  3.79       4-20


Satisfaction from School                                                                         (8=low satisfaction, 32=high satisfaction)                                                          23.20                  4.31       8-32        


Sex                                                                                                          (0=female, 1=male)                                                                                                 .509                  .500       0-1


Race                                                                                                        (0=White, 1=Nonwhite)                                                                                          .162                  .369       0-1


Age                                                                                                         (number)                                                                                                                 14.07                  2.00       10-20

 n= 1500



Table 2. Zero Order Correlation Among Study Variables



                                                                1                              2                              3                              4                              5

1.       Attachment                         

2.       Involvement                         .196**

3.       Satisfaction                          .372**                   .226**

4.       Race                                       -.105**                  .089**                   -.059**

5.       Age                                         -.111**                  -.148**                  -.169**                  .012

6.       Sex                                         -.150**                  -.043                       -.124**                  -.013                       .009


*p < .05


Table 3. OLS Regression Model


                                                  Coeff.  S.E.

Attachment                          ..293*                     .026

Involvement                        .140*                      .034

 Age                                        -.290*                    .063

 Sex                                        -.405                       .246

Race                                       -.483                       .358




Figure 1.





Figure 2.




Figure 3.



Appendix A

The Attachment items are listed below. Respondents were asked how often their parent(s) did the following. Responses ranged from 'never' (1), 'almost never' (2), 'sometimes' (3), and 'most of the time' (4).


Seem to understand me

Make rules that seem fair

Know where I am

Know who I am with

Is concerned with how I am doing in school

Received my thoughts and feelings

Do things with me


Appendix B

The Involvement items are listed below. Respondents were asked how often they did the following. Responses ranged from 'never' (1), 'rarely' (2), '1-2 days/week' (3), '3-6 days/week' (4), and 'everyday' (5).


Participate in school sports

Participate in extracurricular school activities

Participate in other physical activities

Participate in community activities


Appendix C

The Satisfaction items are listed below. Respondents were asked the following questions to measure their amount of satisfaction from school. Responses ranged from 'strongly disagree' (1), 'disagree' (2), 'agree' (3), and 'strongly agree' (4).


Care a lot of what my teachers think of me

Getting an education is important to me

I look forward to coming to school each morning

School rules are fair

Teachers expect a lot of work from students

Teachers keep order in the classroom

Teachers are interested in students

Teachers let students learn from one another in class