High School Sports Culture Around the World



Prep students balancing requirements of academics and athletics.

The fall sports season is drawing to a close with a flurry of final games, conference meets, athlete injuries, and of course, promotions for the upcoming winter season. Sports are a central part of American high school culture, and Saint John’s Prep’s small size means that an even higher percentage of students participate in sports. Both faculty and students are aware of and support our athletes. But what is sports culture like in other countries? I interviewed a few people to get a sample of the world’s varied approaches to high school athletics.

Jennifer Lee, a sophomore from Seoul, South Korea, told me that public high schools in Korea do not have their own sports teams. Students can join athletic clubs outside of school, but they are not very popular. Young people stay active with gym class and casual games. Unlike in the United States, Korean colleges do not offer scholarships for athletics.

[M]any people do not realize that the American approach to them [school sports] is unique rather than ubiquitous.”

Fahima Alizada, a junior from Kabul, Afghanistan, told me that schools in Afghanistan have their own teams and compete with each other, but it is not as serious as in the U.S. The most popular sports are soccer, basketball, volleyball, and biking. Almost all sports are played outdoors, so the seasons die down over the winter. At the school she attended, teams practiced on Fridays and Saturdays, and about 70% of students were in a sport. Academics, however, are still considered to be far more important.

Finally, I interviewed Ms. Talic, who is familiar with the sports culture in many European countries. She said that European schools in general do not have sports teams. Students can join clubs outside of school, but most young people just stay active in their regular routines, especially by walking (everywhere!). Unlike in the United States, sports are not a part of the social world. For European youth, especially girls, social status depends more on behavior, conversational skills, and clothes than athletic ability. Students in sports clubs may even be considered to be missing out on social opportunities. Parents’ attitudes towards sports are also different. They are clear that academics are the number one priority, and sports are considered to be fun time. Parents are often not very involved in their children’s athletics.

Even in the United States, the culture of sports has changed dramatically over time. Most schools only began offering athletics for girls in 1972. So while sports may be a defining aspect of our high school experience, many people do not realize that the American approach to them is unique rather than ubiquitous.