Religion and sport: Do prayers help players?

Atheists will regard the idea that religion can make a difference to outcomes in sport as fanciful. But it is possible to put aside the issue of whether or not God exists and just examine the impact of faith on performance.

This is what Jeong-Keun Park of Seoul University did in 2000 by studying the performances of Korean athletes. He found that prayer was not only a key factor in coping with anxiety but also in attaining peak performance.

A quote from a participant in Park’s study encapsulates the findings: “I always prepared my game with prayer. I committed all things to God, without worry. These prayers make me calmer and more secure and I forget the fear of losing. It resulted in good play.”

This echoes extraordinary research about the power of faith from the world of medicine. In the 1960s, a series of studies found that heart disease is far less common among the religious than in the general population, even after controlling for different lifestyles. Later studies extended this finding, including a paper in 1996 which found that mortality rates in secular kibbutzim are nearly twice that of their religious counterparts.

It seemed that religious beliefs conferred real health benefits.

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