Extracurricular Activities: Benefits Build Grit

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Grit" by Angela Duckworth. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do after school activities help kids develop grit? What are the main benefits of extracurricular activities?

Extracurriculars are known to be good for kids. One of the biggest extracurricular activities benefits is that they’re specifically designed to help kids develop grit through hard work, perseverance, and allowing them to develop interests.

Read more about all of the benefits of extracurricular activities and how they help kids have grit.

Benefits of Extracurricular Activities

Outside of the home, extracurriculars have been found to correlate well with student outcomes like better grades, higher self-esteem, and lower delinquency. In particular, the longer and the more intensely you engage in an extracurricular, the better the outcomes. 

Data on the Extracurricular Activities Benefits

The cited studies:

  • Spending more than a year in extracurriculars increases graduation rate and adult volunteering. Spending more than 2 years in extracurriculars predicts having a job and earning more money.
  • After controlling for grades and SAT scores, follow-through was the best predictor of career accomplishments, graduating from college with honors, holding leadership positions. (Shortform note: but grades and SAT scores were still the best predictors)
  • Extracurricular follow-through correlates with higher grit scores and lowers dropout rates. 
  • In a study of teachers, extracurricular follow-through correlates with longer retention and more effective academic gains. In contrast, GPA, SAT scores, and interviewer ratings did not correlate with retention or effectiveness.

Why Are Extracurriculars so Helpful? 

A few reasons:

  • There’s an adult who can practice supportive and demanding guidance. This allows a complementary role model to parents (whom kids probably get sick of listening to).
  • Extracurriculars are designed to cultivate grit – interest, practice, purpose, hope.
  • Kids feel challenged and have fun in extracurriculars. Other activities are lacking – in class, they feel challenged but unmotivated, and hanging out with friends is fun but not challenging.

But where is the causation? Do extracurriculars train grit, or do more gritty people happen to just participate in more extracurriculars?

Duckworth argues it’s both – follow-through requires a baseline of grit, then builds it at the same time. This is the “corresponsive principle” – the traits that steer us toward certain life situations are the same traits that those situations reinforce. This shows the benefits of extracurriculars.

This can lead to both virtuous and vicious cycles. Someone who is encouraged to try and try again, against her comfort, may experience the satisfaction of a breakthrough. This may then encourage the child to try even more difficult things, then to welcome challenge. 

The Dean of Admissions at Harvard College says these students stand out: students who “have made a commitment to pursue something they love, believe in, and value – and have done so with singular energy, discipline, and plain old hard work.” He argues that the experience of persevering through obstacles teaches valuable lessons, and that this grit is then transferrable to something else.

There are many benefits of extracurriculars, including building grit.

Extracurricular Activities: Benefits Build Grit

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Angela Duckworth's "Grit" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Grit summary:

  • How your grit can predict your success
  • The 4 components that make up grit
  • Why focusing on talent means you overlook true potential

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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