Mind over matter in sportsFeatured science projectScience project video

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1 hour to prepare, 2 days for experiment
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This science project was performed to investigate the effect of mind over matter on an athlete’s performance. The experiment was done to see how pre-conditioning of the mind of an athlete can affect his performance.


The participants who were pre-conditioned mentally, that they would be able to run faster, will actually be able to finish the race in a shorter time.


Mind over matter training

Being a good athlete requires good skills acquired by training as well as a good physique acquired genetically at birth. Training can help an athlete to achieve peak performance through physical fitness and it can also help to refine his techniques. But to further enhance performance, an athlete requires a mental edge.

A mind coach can help an athlete gain a mental edge by teaching him to calm his mind and to focus on the correct things that will ultimately help to improve the athlete's performance. The mind coach can also help an athlete to improve his confidence by guiding him to set proper and achievable goals.

The confidence of the athlete can be improved by setting the right goals. The goals that are developed must be realistic and achievable. Studying the past performance of the athlete can help in setting the right goals. As an athlete achieves his goals, the bar is gradually raised and newer and more challenging goals are developed. Gradually, an athlete’s performance and confidence is also raised.

Another method of improving the athlete’s performance is through visualization. Visualizing the completion of a task will help the athlete to develop a sense of self- believe that they can actually achieve the visualized goal.

Scientific Terms

Mind coaching. visualization, preconditioning


The materials required for this science project:

-    30 long distance runners between ages 15 to 18 years
-    A running track
-    A stopwatch
-    30 bottles of water sweetened with syrup


1.    For this experiment, the independent variable is the pre-conditioning information given to the runners before the 2nd race, i.e. (a) that the sweetened water will improve their performance, (b) that the water will not affect their performance and (c) that the water will worsen their performance. The dependent variable is the time taken by the athletes to complete the 3 laps. The time taken to complete the 3 laps is measured with a stopwatch. The constants (control variables) are the age of the participants and the distance of each lap.

2.    On the 1st day of the experiment, the 30 athletes are made to run 3 laps around the track. The time taken by each of the athlete to complete the race is noted. The athletes are then divided into 3 groups of 10 persons each so that the average time of the runners in each group is almost the same. The average time is calculated by totaling the time taken by all the runners in the group and dividing by 10.

3.    On the 2nd day of the experiment, all 30 athletes are brought to the football field again. They are separated into the 3 groups as mentioned in procedure 2. The 3 groups are pre-conditioned as follows :

a.    the 1st group of athletes is given 1 bottle of sweetened water each. They are informed that the bottle contains nutrients required to enhance their stamina and running performance.

b.    the 2nd group of athletes is also given the same bottle of sweetened water each. They are informed that the water in the bottle will not affect their running performance.

c.    the 3rd group of athletes is also given the same bottle of sweetened water each. They are informed that the water in the bottle will reduce their stamina and worsen their performance. 

4.    The 30 athletes are asked once more to run the 3 laps around the field. The time each of them took to complete the 3 laps is recorded. The new average time taken for each of the 3 groups is calculated and is recorded in the table given below


The results show that the participants that were told that the water will improve their performance actually took a shorter time to run the laps and the participants who were informed that the water will worsen their performance took longer to finish the 3 laps.

mind-over-matter science project mental preconditioning science fair project


The hypothesis that participants who were pre-conditioned that they can run faster will actually complete the race in a shorter time is proven to be true.

Obviously the water had no particular properties and all of the athletes were given the same water to drink. However,  by mentally preconditioning the athletes that the water would  alter their performance in a certain manner, we were able to produce interesting alterations in the performance of the athletes..

Also consider

The experiment can also be done by informing the participants that music will alter their running performance and then a similar test can be conducted. However, music has indeed been shown to have an actual impact on an athlete's performance.

This experiment can also be repeated to compare cycling instead of running speeds.


The effects of music on athletic performance - http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/2474

The science of sport – mind over matter? - http://www.sportsscientists.com/2009/01/mind-over-matter.html

Mind over matter - http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2007/jul/27/triathlon.seaningle1