In this paper, we argue that the cultural contexts of school sports largely determine the organization and social functioning of school sports. Many of the research outcomes of (American) school sports studies are also related to the culturally specific organization and social functioning of school sports in the USA. To investigate this hypothesis, the Dutch and American school sports systems are described and compared on five elements: the competitiveness, intensity, prestige, status and the use of eligibility criteria. Our findings suggest that American and Dutch school sports differ on these five characteristics and that these are strongly determined by the cultural contexts of school sports in both countries. It is therefore concluded that studies on school sports should be interpreted in the light of the cultural context in which the studies were conducted and generalizations of research outcomes should be made carefully, in particular if translated to sport policy. © 2013 Taylor & Francis.