Researchers from the National University of Singapore and Indiana University published findings in July which suggest that ‘strategic indulgence’ can help students reduce the distraction of pleasurable, non-academic activities during term time.
Traditionally, research on academic success is centred around the students’ ability to concentrate on school. The team of scientists reassessed that paradigm to better understand students with strong academic records who partake in big-time collegiate athletics during university.
The research is based in the United States, where high-level athletics are often an integral part of tertiary educational institutions. Athletic records are taken into consideration in admissions decisions, Division 1 sports are widely attended and often televised and local communities are often invested in game outcomes. The researchers account for games and related events.
Past studies indicate that athletics can have a negative effect on academic engagement. Research in 2011 showed that during the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament numbers of JSTOR articles viewed decreased for both staff and students when compared to regular term time. Another study published in the American Economic Journal in 2011 found that the successes of the University of Oregon’s American football team corresponded to lower grade point averages for their students.
This fits with a model for student success that characterises non-academic activities as distractions. Complimentary research shows that successful students benefit from cognitive abilities such as delaying gratification, exercising self-discipline and devaluing temptations.
In light of this scholarship, the scientists sought to explain nuances in academic achievement to account for college athletes and fans with high grade-point averages.
Based on a survey of 325 college students, they concluded that ‘strategic indulgence’ allows for selective attendance of men’s basketball games alongside a strong academic record. They also acknowledge in their findings the potential for college sports to bolster student’s social identities and relieve stress.
In the analysis of their results, they isolated three factors that distinguish strategic indulgence from indiscriminate indulgence.
The first is sensitivity to opportunity: rather than attending all games, high performing students are more likely to recognise gaps in academic pressure and take advantage of them by attending games only as their workload decreases. Secondly, academically successful students engage in ‘compensatory planning,’ to account for study time they sacrificed for games. Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, students who ‘strategically indulge’ actively engage in the games that they do choose to attend. This could mean dressing in school colours, paying attention to the game or attending with a group of friends.
While these findings maintain that delayed gratification and self-discipline are indicators of success, they suggest that planning and strategy can allow for leisure alongside a strong academic performance.
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