The findings are contained in an Edinburgh University study into the Champions in Schools programme that brings top athletes into schools to work with pupils.
The report, by Dr Christine Nash, programme director of the university's department of sport, physical education and health sciences, found pupils showed "a marked increase in self-determination, ambition, perseverance and effort".
Pupils also had more positive attitudes, more involvement in sport and physical activity and a better understanding of healthy lifestyles.
The programme, run by the Winning Scotland Foundation across 19 local authorities, helped pupils to "make the link between effort, school and sport".
Mark Beaumont, who broke the record for cycling around the world, believes it can make a significant difference.
He claimed the point of Champions in Schools is setting goals for all pupils regardless of whether they are sporty.
"The worst thing you can do is tell them that they can't do things," he said.
The Winning Scotland Foundation, funded by the Scottish Government and Quality Meat Scotland, now intends to undertake a longer-term study to see whether perceived benefits are long-lasting.