Many college students decide to participate in sports, whether at the varsity, club, or intramural level. It can be a great way to meet people and have a tightly-knit group of friends, as well as keeping you fit and healthy. However, having to deal with the added stress of an intense training schedule and demanding competition (on top of academic requirements) can often be a difficult task. Some compare it to holding two full-time jobs! With that in mind, let’s look at some top tips for achieving balance as a student athlete.
1. Talk to your coaches
Let your coaches know what your academic goals and schedule look like. The more frequently you communicate with them in advance about potential conflicts and issues, the better they’ll be able to help you find a solution, whether it’s altering your practice schedule or pointing you towards academic resources. Most coaches were college athletes too. They understand the extra pressure you’re under as a student athlete and will do everything they can to help you succeed. After all, the better a student can handle their academics, the more time and energy they have to devote to their athletics.
2. Talk to your professors
These are the people in charge of your academic development, and as such, they are perfectly placed to help you achieve your academic goals. If you let them know your athletic constraints, they can help you work around them by changing their office hours or letting you be absent from class for a competition. Professors understand that many students are working hard on the practice field outside the classroom, and they want to support you and help you flourish as a student athlete.
3. Plan ahead
This is important for all students, but especially as a student athlete. You don’t have as much free time during the day, so you have to set aside specific time to study, train, and relax. College has a lot less scheduled time than in high school: you might have 4 hours of class one day and none the next. That means you have to make your own schedule and stick to it to ensure that your work is completed on-time and to a high standard.
4. Devote yourself to the task at hand
Between your studies, athletics, other extracurriculars, socializing, and relaxing, your days are packed! That means you have to make the time you do have count for as much as possible. At practice, you’re 100% in the zone, and you have the opportunity to forget about work and escape academic stress for a few hours. If you’ve decided to work for an hour, commit to it completely; don’t do it while chatting with friends. Similarly, if you’re taking a break, truly unwind, and don’t worry about practice coming up or that paper you have due. By devoting yourself to the task at hand, you make things more manageable, and you avoid doubling down on stress by worrying about work when you’re already at a difficult practice.
5. Use all available resources
Many schools have resources available specifically for student athletes (special tutoring hours, athletic trainers) as well as general academic resources for students including office hours and writing centers. Though many students don’t make full use of these… as a student-athlete, you can’t afford not to! When you have less time to devote to your academics, maximizing it is a MUST. Go to office hours and use tutoring: you’ll get your work done faster and understand it better! Most colleges also have an office dedicated to helping student-athletes, so you can always find help if you need it.
6. Rest and recover
Another key to academic and athletic success: sleep. It is recommended that adults get 7-9 hours a night and that athletes get 8-10. Learning and training deplete the mind and body; it’s through rest and recovery that our bodies rebuild and assimilate the skills we learn, making us stronger and smarter. 10 hours may be a tall order, but everyone can benefit from getting more sleep. Think about it this way: if you’re tired and sleepy, it might take you three hours to get through your work. Instead, if you sleep for an hour longer, you’ll be awake and alert, and you’ll blaze through it in only two, feeling better and more refreshed throughout the day.
7. Know your priorities
No one can go 110% in their studies and their sport all the time. Know what your priorities are at any point in time, and plan accordingly. During your season, you have to devote more time to practice and travel, so you might consider a lighter course load and focus on your academics during the offseason. Know which of your classes are most important and time-consuming, and prioritize those. If academics are a priority but you’re spending 20 hours a week studying versus 40 hours a week training, then something is off and it’s time to reevaluate.
8. Work together
Every student athlete is part of a team – even in individual sports. Team members or fellow student athletes can be fantastic resources for helping you navigate college, from course recommendations to general life advice. You also have similar time constraints, so it’s easier to find a time to work together. Studying together can be more enjoyable and help you cover material more quickly. However, make sure you pay attention to course policies on working in groups, and don’t cheat or plagiarize – nothing is worth potentially throwing away your college career and athletic eligibility.
9. Choose the right classes
Course selection can be tricky business for most students: pre-med, pre-law, major requirements, core curriculum, etc. Throw NCAA eligibility requirements and a strict practice schedule on top of that, and the challenge is even greater. That means you have to plan even more in advance. If you know what your major is going to be, start ticking off requirements early – you don’t want to cram a whole bunch of difficult classes into the semester when you’re competing. If you know you’ll be exhausted from afternoon practice, then try and avoid evening class. Also pay attention to NCAA eligibility requirements. These can be complicated, so if you’re unsure about them, talk to your coach or email the athletics department to help you figure them out.
10. Don’t count yourself out
There’s a common stereotype that student athletes aren’t as smart and don’t care as much about academics as other students. That isn’t true! The issue is that mindset can often be perpetuated amongst teams: even if you care a lot about your academics, you think your teammates don’t. In fact, when surveyed about how important academic success was to them, student-athletes rated it a 9/10 on average. So don’t be shy about working hard, and sacrificing social time or extra training if you have to. Everybody knows how hard you work on and off the field and respects you for it.