ABSTRACT: This survey involved 150 homeschool graduates, who were asked about their athletics participation and perspectives on homeschool athletics. Respondents were located through homeschool advocacy groups’ facebook pages; this survey likely oversampled individuals with negative or mixed homeschool experiences. Respondents were asked what athletics programs they participated in while being homeschooled; whether public school athletics programs were available to them; how participation in public school athletics programs did or would have affected them; and whether they support granting homeschooled students access to public school athletics programs. Respondents overwhelmingly believed that athletic participation was beneficial to homeschooled students (87%) and supported making public school athletics available to homeschooled students (80%). Among additional findings: access to public school athletics was correlated with higher athletic participation in other athletic programs, such as private school, homeschool, and community leagues; respondents who participated in public school athletics viewed their experiences positively; and many respondents, especially those with negative or mixed homeschool experiences, believed participation in public school athletics would have improved their homeschool experience.
Note: See full responses to the survey here.
Every year, homeschool sports access bills are introduced in state legislatures across the country. State governments and the general public are divided regarding whether homeschooled students should have access to public school athletics, and sports access legislation often faces stiff opposition. The National Education Association opposes granting homeschooled students access to public school athletics, and many in the general public agree, arguing that public school athletics should be open for public school students only.
This study began with the following questions: How do individuals who were homeschooled as children feel about public school athletics access for homeschooled students? How do former homeschooled students who participated in public school athletics reflect on their experiences? How do those who were denied access to public school athletics while being homeschooled feel about the opportunities they did and did not have? To answer these questions, we conducted a survey of homeschool graduates, focusing on their attitudes about homeschool sports access and on their experiences with athletics during the years they were homeschooled. 150 homeschool graduates participated in our survey.
Respondents overwhelmingly favored homeschool access to public school athletics. 80% of respondents agreed with the statement that “Public school athletics should be available to all homeschoolers.” 87% of respondents agreed that “athletic participation is beneficial for homeschooled children.” Respondents stated that participation in public school athletics led to social benefits (more friends, a sense of belonging), physical benefits (improved body image and self-confidence), increased safety (access to mandatory reporters), and opportunities for success (access to recruiters and better competition).
We found that 63% of respondents participated in private school, homeschool, or community athletics programs. While respondents enjoyed and benefited from these programs, they sometimes lacked interested students, qualified instructors, and adequate resources. 22% of respondents reported that public school athletics were available to them. Of these, 39% participated; nearly all had positive experiences. 31% of respondents reported that public school athletics were not available and 47% were not sure. Of these respondents, 10% stated that they would have wanted to participate if they had had the option, and that their caregivers would have allowed them to do so; a further 11% reported that they would have wanted to participate but were unsure whether their caregiver would have allowed them.
The availability of public school athletics correlated positively with higher involvement in other athletic programs such as homeschool leagues, private school teams, and community athletic programs. One possible explanation for this correlation is that homeschooled students may use public school athletics to supplement rather than replace other forms of athletic participation. Another possible explanation is that public school athletic access may stimulate homeschool communities’ overall athletic participation, or that the availability of both public and homeschool athletics is correlated with particular types of homeschool communities. Regardless, the correlation suggests that concerns about the damage public school athletic access would do to homeschool athletic leagues may be overblown.
This study is, to our knowledge, the only extant study of homeschool graduates’ attitudes toward and participation in public school athletics. These findings, and our full dataset of quotes, can be used to inform policy discussions and legislative debates about homeschool sports access. We suggest that these findings support efforts to make public school athletics programs available to homeschooled students.
Survey of Current Research and Law
A wide range of studies have found that participation in sports improves children’s health, lowers rates of drug and alcohol abuse, builds positive body image, and improves students’ academic performance. Nationwide, roughly 60% of students in grades 8, 10, and 12 participate in school athletics. Research on homeschooled students’ athletic participation, including both rate of participation and the effects of sports involvement, is limited.
According to Robert Kunzman and Milton Gaither, most legal analysis has come down in favor of policies that allow homeschool access to public school athletics, though with guidelines and requirements to prevent exploitation of this system. Similarly, studies of athletic officials in states that grant public school sports access to homeschooled students tend to have positive findings. A study of public school athletic directors in Florida found that these individuals “felt that home schoolers interacted well and were socially adjusted, maintained their academics, and followed the schools’ standards of conduct” (Johnson, 2002). When the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers surveyed athletic associations in states that permit homeschool participation in public school athletics, they found that these organizations reported few if any problems.
Less is known about the views and athletics experiences of homeschool alumni. The 2014 HARO survey of homeschool alumni found that 62% of respondents had participated in some form of athletics. Students who participated in athletics rated the socialization they received while being homeschooled more highly than did other students, and reported feeling more prepared for the future than did other students. This suggests that homeschool athletic participation has a positive effect on students, but tells us little about homeschool graduates’ reflections on their experiences.
Homeschooled students’ athletic access generally turns on each state athletics association’s requirements for student athletes. Currently, twenty states’ athletics associations bar homeschooled students from participating in public school athletics, requiring student athletes to “attend” the school they compete for or to be a “full time” or “bona fide” student of that school. As a result, individual public schools may only allow homeschooled students to participate in athletic activities not governed by the state athletic association, such as elementary school athletics programs or high school club sports. The remaining thirty states either offer homeschooled students equal access to public school athletics, leave homeschool access up to the decision of the individual public school, or allow homeschooled students to participate if they enroll in public school part-time.
In recent years, there has been a trend toward giving public school students greater access to public school athletics. Indiana, Alaska, and Tennessee are among those states that have broadened sports access in recent years. However, some states, such as Virginia, have rejected sports access multiple times while other states, such as Louisiana, have granted homeschooled students access only to have this access struck down by the state’s courts.
Survey Methodology and Sample
The CRHE 2016 Homeschool Athletics Survey was created using SurveyGizmo software. Its full text is available here. In order to participate, respondents had to certify that they were at least 18 years old and had been homeschooled in the United States for at least one year. IP addresses were checked to ensure that there was no duplication of responses.
The survey was explicit about its use as a tool to advocate for homeschool access to public school athletics; the introduction stated “Responses may be used to advocate for allowing homeschoolers to participate in public school athletics programs.” Respondents were also encouraged to provide their name or a pseudonym “so that we can quote you in our advocacy materials.” Respondents were likely aware that CRHE has published numerous press releases in favor of bills which would permit homeschoolers to access public school athletics. A few respondents contacted CRHE to ask whether the survey was open to people who were not in favor of public school sports access; we assured them that it was. One person contacted us to say that they had not responded to the survey because they thought it was only open to people who had participated in public school athletics. Based on this evidence, it is probable that individuals who were actively engaged in sports and cared about this issue were more likely to respond to the survey.
The survey was distributed through CRHE’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. The survey was also shared on Facebook by Homeschoolers Anonymous, a project of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out). A total of 150 complete responses were collected between October 21-28, 2016. The vast majority of responses came through Facebook. Because the survey spread largely through social networks in the homeschool reform movement, it is probable that the survey oversampled individuals who had negative or mixed homeschool experiences. The survey was a convenience sample: it is not representative of all homeschoolers and can only be used to draw conclusions about the people who responded to it.
Though the survey did not ask respondents’ gender, we are able to surmise (based on the pseudonyms provided by respondents) that there were approximately 91 female respondents (61%), 12 males (8%), and 47 whose gender was unknown (31%). Of those respondents whose gender could be guessed based on their pseudonym, 88% were female. In a 2014 survey of a similar population, 72% were female. It seems likely, then, that respondents to the 2016 Homeschool Athletics Survey were around 75% to 80% female. Respondents who did not supply a pseudonym were assigned a gender-neutral one.
Respondents were homeschooled in 42 different US states. The states in which the largest number of respondents were homeschooled were Texas (19 respondents), Washington (12), Virginia (11), California (10), and Pennsylvania (10). 46 respondents (or 31% of the total) were homeschooled in more than one state. A larger number of respondents were homeschooled in the South than in other regions. The graph below shows the regions where respondents were homeschooled.
States were divided into regions based on the U.S. Census. Numbers in this graph do not sum to 150 because some respondents were homeschooled in multiple states.
Overview of Homeschool Athletic Participation
Before being asked questions about public school athletics, respondents were asked about their participation in other athletic programs, including homeschool leagues, private school teams, and community programs.
94 respondents (63%) participated in some form of athletics outside programs offered by the public school. Nearly half of respondents (48%) participated in community athletics programs while smaller numbers participated in homeschool athletics programs (29%) and private school athletics programs (7%). 37% did not participate in any of these programs. Only a few of these nonparticipants (5 of 56) participated in public school athletics. In total, roughly one-third (34%) of respondents indicated no athletic participation whatsoever during the years they were homeschooled.
More research is needed to determine whether this rate of athletic involvement (66%) is the same for all homeschooled students nationwide, but it is similar to the percentage of respondents to the 2014 HARO survey who reported athletic participation (62%). While roughly 60% of students in grades 8, 10, and 12 are involved in school athletics nationwide, that number does not encompass all students who were ever involved in athletic activities in any grade, which would likely be far higher. This makes it difficult to compare homeschooled students’ rate of athletic involvement with that of all students overall.
Respondents were next asked whether public school athletics programs were available to homeschoolers during the period they were homeschooled.
22% of respondents indicated that their local public school made athletics programs available to homeschooled students; 31% of respondents indicated that such programs were not made available. Nearly half of all respondents (47%) did not know whether local public schools made their athletics programs available to homeschooled students during the years they were being homeschooled.
There are several possible explanations for the high number of respondents who did not know whether public school athletics were available to homeschoolers while they were being homeschooled. Homeschooled students’ activities tend to be planned and organized primarily by their parents; homeschooled students themselves may not always know what opportunities are available. Homeschool parents who have already decided against involvement may not feel the need to let their children know that public school athletics participation is an option; in cases where such participation is not an option, there would likely be no reason to bring it up. It is also possible that this survey, which was advertised through social networks in the homeschool reform movement, may have oversampled from among homeschooled students who were raised in more conservative environments; these students might be less likely to hear public school athletic involvement discussed whether or not it was an option.
In all, 22% of respondents, or 33 individuals, reported affirmatively that their local public school made athletics programs available to them during the time they were homeschooled. These 33 respondents were asked whether they participated in public school athletics programs during the time they were homeschooled.
Of the 22% of respondents who reported that public school athletics were available to homeschooled students during the period they were homeschooled, 39% reported that they participated in these programs and 61% reported that they did not.
As shown in the chart below, approximately the same percentage of respondents participated in private school, homeschool, and community athletics programs regardless of whether they also participated in public school athletics. (In this chart, nonparticipants in public school athletics include those who reported that public school athletics were available but that they did not participate.)
This finding suggests that students who participate in public school athletics may be augmenting other athletic participation rather than replacing it. While the survey did not collect information on respondents’ ages at the time of participation, the fact that competitive community athletic programs are frequently offered for younger students but not for teens was referenced by a number of our survey respondents. It is likely that at least some respondents who participated in both public school and other athletic programs may have participated in private, homeschool, or community athletics as younger children and switched to public school athletics in middle or high school.
Our findings indicate that making public school athletics available to homeschooled students may not decrease homeschool participation in other athletics programs. To the contrary, in our survey the availability of public school athletics was correlated with high participation in other athletics programs.
While 76% (25/33) of those who had public school athletics available to them participated in other athletics programs, only 59% (69 of 117) of those for whom public school athletics was NOT available participated in other athletics programs. The availability of public school athletics was positively correlated with participation in other athletics programs.
It is unclear why public school sports access correlated with higher rates of participation in other athletic programs. It is possible that the availability of public school athletics may make homeschool communities more friendly to athletic participation across the board, stimulating involvement in other programs. It is also possible that public school superintendents whose districts are home to particularly active and athletic homeschool communities are more likely to open participation to homeschooled athletes.
Regardless of the specific dynamics at play, our findings suggest that there is reason to question the oft-proffered claim that public school athletic access is a threat to the viability of homeschool athletics leagues. To the contrary, these findings suggest that public school athletic access and homeschool athletic leagues can coexist, working in tandem to expand the athletics options available to homeschooled students.
Homeschool Participation in Other Athletics Programs
63% of respondents participated in private school, homeschool, or community athletics leagues. Of these, community athletics programs were used most commonly. Many respondents who participated in private school, community, and homeschool athletics programs had positive experiences. These students made friends, pushed themselves, gained confidence, and acquired healthy life skills.
“I made a lot of friends, I made much healthier choices because I wanted to compete at higher levels. I eventually wanted to attend the [private] school that allowed me to participate as an independent runner.” – Val M., homeschooled in Indiana and Texas, participated in private school athletics and community athletics
“Positively. Expanded my world. Gave me an outlet for physical activity. Was my primary social circle outside of my family. Exposed me to good men who were my coaches.” – Joshua Wells, homeschooled in Oklahoma, participated in homeschool athletics and community athletics
“Allowed me to get a NCAA Division I scholarship to the University of Texas Pan American. Gave a me a social outlet. Gave me confidence in my athletic and leadership abilities.” – Z.D.W., homeschooled in Oklahoma, participated in homeschool athletics and community athletics
“It helped foster a sense of community with fellow homeschooled kids, and from that we forged deep and lasting friendships.” – Cameron, homeschooled in New Jersey, participated in homeschool athletics
“Socialization with non homeschooled kids. Responding to authority figures that weren’t my parents. As a female I did something boys were doing too.” – Tiffany, homeschooled in South Dakota, Alabama, Virginia, Colorado, and Oklahoma, participated in community athletics
“The community swim team I was on for seven summers was a good way to meet new kids (public, private, and homeschooled). It brought me out of my comfort zone and taught me hard work and valuable athletic skills.” – Anna M., homeschooled in Nebraska, participated in community athletics
However, participation in private school, homeschool, and community athletics programs had its limitations, including lack of interested students of the right ages, lack of proper instruction, social exclusion, and problems posed when abusive parents are also coaches or when coaches are not mandatory reporters.
“I enjoyed the sport but played for a small Christian school that did not expand my social opportunities significantly.” – Susanna, homeschooled in Missouri, participated in private school athletics and homeschool athletics
“It was good to see other kids my age. Participation in sports also helped get me active. Once I reached junior high age there were no longer any community sports available.” – Faith, homeschooled in Texas, participated in community athletics
“Our homeschool group had an informal “gym and swim” event at a Christian facility. We would use their pool for half of the time, and the gymnasium for half. …The swim was managed by moms, no instruction. And there was no instruction in the gymnasium so I never learned how to play basketball, volleyball, or table tennis, which is what was available.” – Elle, homeschooled in New Jersey, participated in homeschool athletics and community athletics
“It gave me rudimentary training in the sport. It also put me under huge stress since my abusive dad was our coach for the bulk of the time.” – Wendy, homeschooled in Maryland and Ohio, participated in homeschool athletics
“I participated in Drill Team and competitive Dance Team. This experience gave me an escape from my home where my mother and brother were physically and emotionally abusive. It was a place where I could leave that behind and focus on my own development and growth. As I grew into adulthood I had some anger as I know the signs of abuse were evident to the coach, but that the culture of protection allowed them to choose not to see it or notice.” – Jacqueline, homeschooled in Missouri, participated in homeschool athletics and community athletics
“One time at a church and was very turned off by it, never went back. We were apparently the only secular family homeschooling in our area; all others were conservative Christians and I hated being made to feel even more different by going.” – Kris, homeschooled in Arkansas, participated in community athletics
Homeschool, private school, and community athletic programs can and often do fill an important role in serving homeschooled students’ athletic needs. However, these opportunities are not always sufficient to meet homeschooled students’ athletic needs, especially those of students who are older or who live in areas with fewer other athletic opportunities. These programs also come with their own limitations and drawbacks.
Homeschool Participation in Public School Athletics
Of the 22% (33 respondents) who indicated that the local public schools made their athletics programs available to homeschoolers, 39% (13 respondents) reported that they participated in these programs. These respondents accounted for 9% of the total sample. Their responses to questions about their experience can shed light on homeschooled students’ motivations for participating in public school athletics and the effect of that participation.
The 13 respondents who participated in public school athletics programs were asked to indicate their motivations for participation. Because they were asked to indicate all that applied, their responses do not add up to 100%.
These respondents’ primary motivation for involvement in public school athletics was to have fun, followed closely by making friends and gaining skills. Slightly more than 50% of the respondents indicated that they participated to become physically active or to get into shape.
When asked about their experiences, 10 of 13 respondents (78%) listed only positive effects; two listed mixed effects; and one listed only negative effects.
“Just like in the community sports it was a fun experience and gave me a chance to interact with other kids my age.” – Kara Harris, homeschooled in Indiana
“I was part of the cross country team. It was a challenge for me, and I got to do something that wasn’t really available a club or individual sport. I still run on a semi regular basis so it was also a life skill.” – Bethany M., homeschooled in Minnesota
“I loved it. It was a lot of fun and my parents almost never came to my games, which was great.” – D., homeschooled in Minnesota
“I had fun, and I proved to myself that I was capable.” – Rebekah, homeschooled in Florida
“It taught me about teamwork, pushed me physically, and gave me insight into other people.” – Brittany Spencer, homeschooled in North Carolina
“It expanded my circle of friends and helped me learn social skills. I also learned a great deal of self-discipline that surprisingly didn’t come with being homeschooled. I gained a lot of skills in problem solving and dealing with difficult people that I have continued to build on over my life.” – Allison H., homeschooled in Pennsylvania
“It allowed me to get more socialization outside of my family and church.” – Rene, homeschooled in Oregon
“Mainly it impressed upon me the importance of discipline.” – Ramona, homeschooled in Wisconsin
“It helped me have something to learn outside of my living room that I could experience with other peers my age.” – Jeanette Braun, homeschooled in Tennessee
“It was really good! I loved my coach and teammates and I got the opportunity to play a sport, basketball, that I loved.” – Christine W., homeschooled in Washington
“It was mostly a good experience. It was a little weird being on a team with people who knew each other and had classes together, which could make you feel out of place or like an outsider.” – Robyn, homeschooled in Alabama and Washington
“I was bullied because of being homeschooled but the skills and (mild) athletic abilities I gained were helpful.” – Rachel O., homeschooled in Oregon
“I didn’t achieve any of my goals. I was definitely the odd one out–I was on a swim team with girls who all knew each other from school. It was alienating and I quit pretty quickly.” – Joanne, homeschooled in Washington
These respondents reported that participation in public school athletics gave them confidence and exposure to new people and ideas; helped them form new friendships; and improved their teamwork skills and self-discipline. Their responses showcase the positive effect public school athletics can have on homeschooled students’ growth and development.
Homeschool Nonparticipation in Public School Athletics
Of the 33 respondents (22%) who indicated that public school athletics programs were available to them, 20 respondents reported that they did not participate in these programs. These respondents reported their reasons as follows:
“Other reasons” these individuals gave for not participating included:
- “Lack of time due to other activities.”
- “No one ever asked me if I wanted to participate or considered it as an option.”
- “Other commitments.”
- “The law ensuring access came late in high school.”
- “I was asked to swim for the public school, but I didn’t like the style of their workouts or the workout time of 5:45 AM.”
- “We had a variety of sports already available for us to participate without the public system. We did, however, use their fields during the weekend to play.”
Out of 33 respondents who reported that public school athletics were available to them, 7 (or 21%) reported that they were prevented from participating by their parents. However, the actual number may be higher; some of the respondents who reported that they did not know whether public school athletics were available to them while they were homeschooled may have been prevented from participating by their parents without being aware of it.
The respondents (20 total) who had public school athletics available but did not participate were asked this question: “How would participation in a public school athletics program have affected you?” While speculative, these responses are worth studying because they are indicative of students’ reasons for not participating.
For instance, some respondents’ sole reason for not participating was that their parents prevented them.
“I would have learned how to work with a team, learned to handle criticism better, and really enjoyed playing competitive sports.” – Amanda, homeschooled in Ohio and Pennsylvania
“I think it would have created more social opportunities and taught me consistency. We were always jumping from one homeschool fad to the next – I don’t remember ever finishing things when I was at home.” – Jaime, homeschooled in Arizona
“Participating in public school athletics could have given me a whole new perspective on what goes on in the world. Coming from a very sheltered home I was taught most people outside of our homeschooling groups or people with different views were bad people.” – Mary, homeschooled in New Hampshire
One respondent did not participate because he did not gain have public school access until late in high school.
“I think it would have been positive and helped with socialization. I enjoyed sports and was reasonably athletic. Could have prepared me to be better integrated at college.” – Dave Ketter, homeschooled in Pennsylvania
One respondent did not participate because they did not have enough information about athletics to know what was available.
“I really can’t say how it would have. At the time I wasn’t interested in competitive sports, and didn’t realize that not all sports are team v. team–I probably would have pursued cross country & track had I known more about them.” – Sam, homeschooled in Illinois
Of those students who were not denied the opportunity to participate but chose not to do so, some disliked athletics while others had alternative activities to take up their time.
“I don’t think it would have changed my experience very much. I participated in horseback riding, soccer, softball, swim team, and dance during high school.” – Ruth Anderson, homeschooled in Virginia
“I’d probably have had more of an exercise habit. I definitely would have made a few more friends sooner. However, I did participate in the public school drama program, and made friends there.” – Missie Kay, homeschooled in Minnesota
“I didn’t want to participate in a public school athletics program, because while I felt out of place with the other homeschoolers at homeschool P.E., I felt even more out of place with public schoolers … I was also incredibly introverted, and … because of how little support I had at home (and because I’m autistic), I think it could have been really, really difficult. But it also could have been invaluable to experience something so foreign at that young age.” – Laura Smith, homeschooled in Idaho
None of these students reported that the availability of public school athletics negatively impacted their homeschool experience. Of these students, 85% (17 respondents) participated on private school teams, in homeschool leagues, or in community athletics programs. This number is higher than the overall percentage of survey respondents who participated in these programs, suggesting that the availability of public school athletics did not decrease the availability of other athletics opportunities for these students. While some of these respondents regretted not taking the opportunity to participate in public school athletics programs, none of them regretted having these programs available.
Homeschooled Students Without Access to Public School Athletics
Of the 150 respondents to our survey, a total of 117 indicated either that their local public schools did not make athletics programs available to them during the years they were homeschooled (47 respondents), or that they did not know whether these programs were available to them (70 respondents). These students were asked about their desire to participate and about their parents’ willingness to allow them to participate.
69% of respondents (81 of 117) indicated that they would have or might have wanted to participate had public school athletic programs been available to them.
57 out of 117 respondents (or 49%) believed that their caregivers would not have allowed them to participate in public school athletics had they been available.
This rate was the same among those who knew for certain that public school athletics were not available to them; 23 of 47 (49%) of these students stated that their caregivers would not have allowed them to participate in these programs had they been available. These numbers stand in contrast to the rate of respondents who reported that public school athletics were available to them but their parents did not allow them to participate (21%). This suggests that those for whom public school athletics were not available may be overestimating the degree to which their parents would have prevented them from participating.
Of the 117 respondents who stated that they either did not have access to public school athletics programs or that they were not sure whether they had access, 12 (10%) reported both that they would have wanted to participate and that they believe their caregiver would have allowed them to participate. Another 43 (37%) reported that they would have wanted to participate had public school athletics programs been available to them, but that they did not believe that their caregiver would have allowed them to participate, or were unsure.
The 81 respondents who indicated that they would have or might have wanted to participate in public school athletics (if it had been available to them) were asked to indicate their motivations for participating. Because they were asked to indicate all that applied, their responses do not add up to 100%. These respondents’ primary motivation for participating was increased socialization, followed closely by having fun.
These respondents’ reported motivations differ in several aspects from those reported by respondents who did participate in public school athletics. The percentage who indicated a desire to have fun is similar (74% as compared to 77%), as is the percentage motivated by a desire to become physically fit (53% as compared to 54%). However, these students report being more motivated by a desire to make friends and become part of a team (79% as compared to 69%) and less motivated by a desire to improve their skills (43% as compared to 62%). There are several possible reasons for these differences.
When compared with respondents who are looking back on having participated in these activities, these divergences may indicate that respondents who did not participate in these activities but would have liked to slightly overvalue the role public school athletics plays in facilitating friendships and substantially undervalue the skills public school athletic involvement can provide. Because we likely oversampled students who had negative homeschool experiences, it is also possible that these respondents may have been especially lonely during their homeschool years; the need to make friends and belong may be on the forefront of these respondents’ minds when considering what might have been different.
It is also possible that, when public school athletics programs are available, homeschooled students with skills-related motivations are more likely to participate than those with friend-related motivations. Of the 117 respondents who did not have access to public school athletics programs, 69% indicated that they would have or might have wanted to participate; of the 33 respondents who did have access to these programs, a significantly lower 39 actually participated in them. It may be that those homeschooled students most likely to participate in public school athletics, when available, are those most motivated by a desire to acquire skills.
The above graph suggests that respondents who were certain they would have wanted to participate in public school athletics had they been available were also more likely to be motivated by a desire to improve their skills.
The 117 respondents who did not have access to public school athletic programs (or who were not sure whether they had access) were asked to describe how they believe participation in a public school athletics program would have affected them. The most common words from their responses are illustrated in this word cloud:
When listing how they believe they would have been affected by participating in public school athletics, 21 respondents out of 117 (18%) mentioned the word “friend.” The development of social skills and exposure to a variety of people were other major themes. Still other themes include gaining resources to recognize and address abuse in the home; gaining self-confidence and a better body image; and gaining access to a higher level of skill and competition.
You can see these themes at play in the responses below. The responses, in which survey participants explain how they believe they would have been affected by participation in public school athletics, are categorized by the respondent’s answer to this question: “If public school athletics programs had been available during the period you were homeschooled, would you have wanted to participate?”
Yes, I would have wanted to participate
“I would have broadened the range of sports available to me. At the time I was homeschooled, basketball was the only competitive sport. That’s changed since then. I would have gotten more exposure for athletic scholarships if I’d played at the school in my district, which is one of the largest in the state. Better competition.” – Joshua Wells, homeschooled in Oklahoma
“I would’ve have been more involved in my community, and more likely to develop positive relationships that didn’t necessarily involve my own religious beliefs, so when I got pregnant, I may not have been completely shunned and alienated by my peers.” – Brianna Dunning, homeschooled in Texas
“I feel like it would have provided much needed physical and social activity that was otherwise hard to have access to where I grew up.” – Angel, homeschooled in Arizona
“I approached my local high school to allow me to try out for their tennis team. I didn’t ask for a spot on the team, just the opportunity to try out and go from there. They said no. I think participating in the tennis team would have allowed me to further develop my skills and allow me to spend more time with friends who were in public school and already on the team.” – Taylor, homeschooled in Louisiana
“It would have given me the opportunity to engage with and make friends with people outside of my home and church. I would have had the opportunity to learn teamwork and how to work with people who may have differing views, ideas, etc. I would have learned what it means to achieve, how to share in that excitement, and how achievement can have such positive effects on one’s self esteem. I would have had another adult to look to as a role model and even perhaps someone I could talk to about what was going on at home.” – Sarah P., homeschooled in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Kentucky, and Indiana
“I believe I would have been much more in tune with my generation [and would not have] suffered as much depression from isolation. [I would have been] able to recognise the strange and abusive patterns of my family earlier, and maybe even be a great athlete. I was a good enough swimmer to be at the top of my group among swimmers to swim all year when I only swam on a community team during the summer.” – Max, homeschooled in Maryland and Ohio
I don’t know if I would have wanted to participate
“I think it would have given me more confidence and helped me expand my social network.” – Trinity, homeschooled in Michigan
“It would have made me less fearful and anxious of things and people I did not know well outside of my home. It would have made me less fearful of public school and the “outside world”. It would have given me more friends and helped me socially. It would have given me confidence in my body and helped me with performance anxiety.” – Rachel G., homeschooled in Georgia
“I would have had a more positive body image and might not have developed an eating disorder.” – Caitlin T., homeschooled in Pennsylvania and New Jersey
“I think it would have helped my self confidence and helped me make friends. I had no friends my age that I saw on a daily basis.” – Shawn, homeschooled in Pennsylvania and Maryland
No, I would not have wanted to participate
“I was homeschooled from K-12 and had no friends as a child other than my sister. I also knew barely anything about sports and didn’t play them at all as an adolescent. As to how an athletics program would have affected me, I know that I would have been terrified to socialize with public school kids back then. However, I now know as an adult, that it would have helped me become more socialized with other kids my own age and opened my eyes to developing relationships with kids who were different than myself.” – Janean, homeschooled in New York and Ohio
“It might have increased my interest or willingness to participate in team sports and helped promote lifetime healthy habits.” – Katie, homeschooled in Indiana
“I’ve always disliked sports of any sort, particularly team sports, as I have little athletic ability or inclination. During my years as a home schooler, I was grateful to be able to avoid gym class and other athletic activities. As an adult, I can see how participation in such activities could have benefitted me. That said, on the whole, of all the things I regret missing out on due to homeschooling (and there are many such things, which, at age 37, I still feel acutely), for me, participation in sports is not one of them.” – Jenny, homeschooled in South Carolina, Rhode Island, and California
“It would’ve caused me anxiety because I was often made fun of for not knowing how to play certain sports or games.” – Christine U., homeschooled in Utah
Respondents who were less sure about whether they would have wanted to participate worried that they might have felt awkward or out of place around public school students. Other respondents believed that participating in public school athletics might have helped them surmount a sense of otherness—a feeling that they were different and unable to fit in with their peers because they were homeschooled. Still others mentioned a desire to gain confidence; an interest in exploring their athletic aptitude; and a hope that exposure to other people might have helped them recognize problematic patterns in their homes.
It is possible that these respondents were overly optimistic about the benefits they would have experienced had they had the opportunity to participate in public school athletics. That said, the 13 respondents who participated in public school athletics reported primarily positive experiences: learning greater self-discipline; experiencing a wider range of peer socialization; and gaining self-confidence. Only three reported feeling awkward or like they did not fit. While participating in public school athletics program would not have solved all of nonparticipating respondents’ problems, it is unlikely to have made them worse.
The Potential Extent of Homeschool Participation
If public school athletics were made available to all homeschooled students, how many of them would participate? Nationwide, roughly 60% of students in grades 8, 10, and 12 participate in school athletics. We would expect the level of homeschoolers’ participation in public school athletics to be lower than this figure. On the lower end of the scale, 10% of our respondents who did not have or were unsure whether they had access to public school athletics reported affirmatively that they both would have both wanted to and been allowed to participate if it had been available; another 11% reported that they would have wanted to participate and were unsure whether they would have been allowed. It is unlikely, then, that homeschoolers’ level of participation in public school athletics would be lower than 10%.
Between 10% and 60%, where might homeschooled students’ level of participation fall? Of those survey participants who stated that they had access to public school athletics, 39% participated. However, the actual percentage is likely lower because public school athletics programs may have been available to some of the respondents (47% of the total) who reported that they did not know whether they were available. Still, of respondents who did not have or were unsure whether they had access to public school athletics, a full 47% reported that they would have wanted to participate; of these, over half believed their parents would not have allowed them to participate, but as noted earlier, this is likely an overestimation. An additional 23% reported that they might have wanted to participate.
Because we used a volunteer convenience sample, we cannot draw specific conclusions about the potential rate of homeschool involvement in public school athletics from this data. Our survey likely oversampled both individuals who participated in public school athletics while being homeschooled and individuals who wish they had been able to participate in these programs. However, we may be able to look to other data to provide some context.
In 2012, VAHomeschoolers surveyed athletics associations in states that allow homeschooled students to participate in public school athletics programs; most associations reported that public school athletics programs in their state had a minimal number of homeschool participants. No association kept track of specific numbers, making it difficult to know how these associations defined minimal. However, homeschooled students as a group comprise a small percentage of students overall (3.4% in 2012). If one in three homeschooled students participated, the total number of homeschool participants would still be minimal in relative terms (homeschooled students would comprise 1% of a typical public school’s athletes).
Additionally, based on the responses provided by a number of state athletics associations, it appears that homeschool participants may be concentrated in activities that do not set limits on the number of participants, such as track or tennis. This indicates that some stakeholders’ concerns about homeschooled students taking spots from other students may be overblown.
Maine: “To some degree, homeschooled students are perhaps more likely to participate in individual sports such as golf, cross country, and tennis rather than team sports such as football, basketball and baseball/softball.”
Nevada: “[T]he percentage [of participants who are homeschooled] is less than 1% and of this percentage, the lion’s share participate in the following sanctioned activities that have no maximum participant roster limitations: Golf, Tennis, Swimming and Diving, Cross Country/Track and Field.”
The state athletic associations that responded to VAHomeschoolers’ survey indicated that granting homeschooled students access to public school athletics programs had not negatively impacted member schools or states’ overall high school athletics programs. A study of homeschool athletic participation in Florida in 2000 had a similar finding; this study estimated that 0.25% of students participating in activities governed by the Florida High School Athletic Association were homeschooled (the number of homeschooled students nationwide doubled between 1999 and 2012, so this number would likely be higher today).
Respondents’ Attitudes Toward Participation in Public School Athletics
So far we have dealt primarily with respondents’ experiences being homeschooled, including their involvement in public school athletics programs and in other athletics leagues. Now we turn to these individuals’ views on the impact of athletic participation on homeschooled children’s physical and social development and their views on granting homeschooled students access to public school athletics. Respondents overwhelmingly supported athletic participation: 87% agreed that athletic participation is beneficial for homeschooled children. The vast majority of respondents also favored public school sports access: 80% agreed that public school athletics should be made available to homeschooled students.
The data from these graphs is further broken down here:
While the survey’s stated purpose as an advocacy tool most likely contributed to these high percentages, these individuals’ responses point to a belief among many homeschool graduates, especially those with negative or mixed homeschool experiences, that public school athletics access is beneficial for homeschooled students. When respondents were asked to explain, they provided further information about why they supported opening public school athletics programs to homeschoolers—or why they did not.
80% of respondents (120 individuals) stated that homeschooled students should have access to public school athletics. Of these, 43 respondents (29% of the total sample) mentioned in their response that homeschool families pay local property taxes and argued that they should have access to the public programs their tax dollars pay for.
“We live within the same school zones and pay the same taxes. Doesn’t make much sense to exclude anyone. I do wish there was more oversight for homeschoolers, though, and it seems like that could be incorporated into qualifying for athletics participation.” – Jaime, homeschooled in Arizona
Other themes included:
- Homeschooled students have the same athletic needs as other children but have more difficulty meeting those needs
- Socialization is vital for homeschooled students and public school athletics is an easy way to meet this need
- Sports access allows homeschooled students to be seen by mandatory reporters
These themes are evident in the responses below:
“Homeschooled students need the opportunity to socialize, work with a team, and take constructive criticism from a coach. It helps as they grow up and join the workforce, giving them essential tools for being a good contributor to society.” – Amanda, homeschooled in Ohio and Pennsylvania
“Homeschooled students should have resources available to them that are also available to public school students. In the case of athletics, these resources help keep homeschooled kids active, expand their social circles and introduce them to people with different experiences, and teach them lessons from physical coordination to teamwork. And I say this as someone who was definitely bullied on my public school sports teams. I still think the option should be open, and hopefully normalizing it can reduce the bullying I experienced.” – Rachel O., homeschooled in Oregon
“I believe being able to take part in public school athletics would give homeschoolers a social outlet that many don’t otherwise have. I also think it lets them have contact with caring adults besides their parents who can affect them positively.” – Raya, homeschooled in North Carolina and New York
“I think athletics foster many qualities, such as teamwork and leadership, that are important for any kid regardless of whether they are homeschooled or not. All children should have access.” – Cameron, homeschooled in New Jersey
“Team sports through public schools are very often the only access for students like myself who grew up in underprivileged areas. I had to use a community league outside of my municipality and a YMCA that was nearly 30 minutes away from home to do sports.” – Dave Ketter, homeschooled in Pennsylvania
“I think it is good to have connections between the homeschool and public school community and sports can be common ground for both student-athletes and coaches.” – Corey, homeschooled in North Carolina
“It’s good to have external influences aside from just homeschooled peers. Playing lacrosse was some of the most fun I had in high school and I loved playing soccer when I was younger even if we were terrible. Sports teach discipline, social skills, and how to work in a team of people who are different from your normal social group.” – D., homeschooled in Minnesota
20% of respondents (30 individuals) were either neutral to public school athletics access or argued that homeschooled students should not have access to these programs.
“I think it is difficult to open public school sports to homeschooled students. Public school students have to meet various standards to be eligible to play on their school’s team. It doesn’t seem fair to maybe have a homeschooled student take the place of a public school student that is at the school every day and required to meet attendance, fundraising, and grade level standards.” – Jessi, homeschooled in New York
“If homeschoolers want to participate in public school activities, they should be enrolled in public schools. If they don’t want to fully participate in public school life, they should start homeschool sports leagues, or join sports leagues through their communities (or petition their communities to start a sports program if one is not available).” – Dusty, homeschooled in Mississippi
“Athletics is part of the community of a public school. Homeschoolers are willful non-participants, non-joiners, often even hostile to the culture and services. They contribute little to the community, so they shouldn’t be allowed to benefit from its services. Taxes are not a free ticket. Many non-child-havers pay taxes to support schools but cannot claim any benefits.” – Kerry, homeschooled in Georgia
The belief that homeschooling parents forfeit the right to enroll their children in public school athletics programs when they choose to homeschool is shared by many in the general public, and tends to be one of the main hurdles sports access legislation must clear. Even the few respondents who opposed homeschool access to public school athletics (8 individuals out of 150 individuals total) recognized the importance of sports participation to homeschooled students’ growth and development; they suggested that this experience should be gained through private school, homeschool, and community leagues. As evident in other responses to this same survey, these programs are important, but come with their own limitations.
Lawmakers and others advocating for homeschool access to public school athletics have also recognized that it would be unfair to allow homeschooled students to participate without holding them to equivalent academic standards to those public school athletes must meet. In states that have given homeschooled students access to public school athletics, determining homeschooled students’ eligibility requirements is typically left up to the local school district, which is allowed to set its own academic requirements.
Only a very small minority of respondents opposed granting sports access to homeschooled students. While 15% of respondents (22 individuals) were neutral on whether homeschooled students should have access to public school athletics, only 5% of respondents (8 individuals) actively disagreed with granting this access. The remaining 80% of respondents (120 individuals) were in favor of opening public school access to homeschooled students.
While this study was conducted with a convenience sample and therefore cannot be assumed to be representative of all homeschool alumni, it nonetheless points to several themes which are worthy of policymakers’ consideration.
- Many homeschool alumni who participated in public school athletics look back positively on their experiences. Even the few respondents who had negative or mixed experiences participating in public school athletics argued that homeschooled students should have access to these programs.
- Homeschool access to public school athletics is not necessarily detrimental to the success of homeschool sports leagues. In fact, we found that public school athletics access was positively correlated with elevated participation in other other athletics programs, such as homeschool, private school, and community leagues.
- Many young adults with mixed or negative homeschool experiences believe involvement in public school athletics would have improved their experience. Their reasons include being able to make friends, socializing with different kinds of individuals, and having access to safe adult role models that could have identified signs that abuse was taking place in the home.
- Many young adults with negative or mixed homeschool experiences support homeschool access to public school athletics. While the representativeness of our findings is limited by the use of a convenience sample, the degree to which these participants supported public school sports access suggests that homeschool alumni as a whole might also support such a measure.
- Even if homeschooled students were allowed to participate at the rate they wanted, it is unlikely they would overwhelm the school system. Homeschooled students comprise a small percentage of all students, participate in public school athletics at a lower rate than public school students when given access, and gravitate toward athletic programs without limits on participants.
- There are homeschooled students out there today who would be glad to participate in public school athletics if offered the opportunity. These students may not always have a choice in how they are educated, but policymakers do have a choice about whether to welcome or exclude them.
Research conducted and analyzed by Dr. Chelsea McCracken and Rachel Coleman.
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