Impact of Noncognitive Factors on First-Year Academic Performance and Persistence of NCAA Division I Student Athletes

Article excerpt

SAT scores and noncognitive factors (acquired knowledge in a field, community service, positive self-concept, and preference for long-term goals) were found to be related to academic performance and persistence among 1st-year NCAA Division I student athletes (N = 109). Implications for college counselors and future research directions are discussed.


Student athletes constitute a specialized campus population who confront unique challenges when adjusting to the demands of college or university life (Engstrom & Sedlacek, 1991; Petrie & Russell, 1995; Sedlacek & Adams-Gaston, 1992; Shriberg & Brodzinski, 1984; Watt & Moore, 2001; Young & Sowa, 1992). For example, they tend to experience unique emotional pressure to succeed academically and athletically (Engstrom & Sedlacek, 1991). This pressure is often compounded by time-management problems and absence from campus because of extensive competitive travel demands (Wolverton, 2006). Regarding social adjustment, previous researchers have found that student athletes may experience loneliness and feelings of isolation (Carodine, Almond, & Gratto, 2001), negative reactions when attempting to engage peers and faculty members (Engstrom & Sedlacek, 1991, 1993; Engstrom, Sedlacek, & McEwen, 1995), and a lack of role models and mentors or a lack of representation in their areas of academic study (Watt & Moore, 2001). Furthermore, student athletes may be especially likely to engage in problematic use of alcohol and other substances (Etzel, Ferrante, & Pinkney, 2002). Similarly, Hill, Burch-Ragan, and Yates (2001) reported that student athletes may be especially likely to confront problems of sexual assault and violence. Taken together, a growing body of research exists that supports the suggestion that student athletes face heightened college adjustment demands. In fact, two earlier studies found that 10% to 15% of student athletes seem to experience distress at a level warranting clinical attention (Hinkle, 1994; Murray, 1997).


Student athletes seem to experience heightened academic adjustment concerns. For example, participation in major intercollegiate sports previously was found to have a negative effect on academic performance (Astin, 1993) and on other cognitive outcomes including reading comprehension and math skills in football and basketball players (Pascarella et al., 1999). Among the findings in the extant literature, psychosocial, or noncognitive, variables may play an important role in student athletes' academic performance. The term noncognitive refers to "variables relating to adjustment, motivation, and perceptions, rather than the traditional verbal and quantitative (often called cognitive) areas typically measured by standardized tests" (Sedlacek, 2004, p. 36). For example, in one study (Simons, Van Rheenen, & Covington, 1999), college student athletes who were highly motivated to succeed academically (the success-oriented overachievers) displayed higher self-worth, exhibited better metacognitive study strategies, demonstrated higher academic performance, and had fewer reading and study problems than did the student athletes who were less highly motivated (the failure avoiders and the failure acceptors). Student athletes who were more involved with their studies and worked with faculty members were found to have better academic performance than those who were less involved (Schroeder, 2000; Watt & Moore, 2001).

Furthermore, those student athletes with greater access to social support from teammates, family, and institutional sources seem more likely to experience academic success (Petrie & Stoever, 1997; Young & Sowa, 1992). Unfortunately, although access to institutional support seems to mitigate some difficulties, student athletes tend to underuse college and university counseling services (Birky, 2007; Watson, 2005). …


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