The research found that student athletes who took a semester-long academic class that focused on psychological skills to improve game performance actually received higher ratings from their coaches than did similar athletes who did not take the class.
The class-taking athletes were rated by coaches as achieving more in their sport, showing more leadership skills, playing with more confidence, peaking better under pressure and coping better with adversity.
"The findings show how success in sports depends a lot on mental preparation," said Sam Maniar, co-author of the study and a sport psychology consultant at Ohio State University's Sports Medicine Center.
"Learning how to prepare psychologically for competition plays an important role in achievement, just as does preparing physically." Maniar conducted the study with Lewis Curry of the University of Montana. The results were published in a recent issue of the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology.
The study involved a course entitled "Principles of Optimal Performance," which was available at a NCAA Division I university. The class was given a sophomore-level number and open to all students, although it attracted mainly athletes.
The researchers analyzed results from between 62 and 291 student-athletes (the number depended on the issues being studied) from a variety of sports who took the class between 1996 and 1999. These students were compared to similar athletes at the school who did not take the class.
About three-quarters of the course was devoted to mental skills that could help athletes in their sports, Maniar said. For example, students learned strategies for goal-setting, how to control their responses to pre-game stress and excitement, and pre-game rituals and routines.