Guest post by:
Lindsey Clarke, MS, ATC, CMT
Athletic Trainer; Massage Therapist Charleston Battery
MUSC Sports Medicine

newsAPUSH, pre-calc, physics, AP Lit…most high school student’s course loads are extremely demanding and require hours upon hours of homework on a weekly basis. Turn a high school student into a student athlete and that already heavy academic load will require a secret decoder ring to decipher and maintain a balance between both schedules and demands…what time the game is Thursday, when that AP Bio exam is, where this weekend’s tournament is, oh, and what day are the SATs again? The demands placed on children to be well-rounded, philanthropic, smart, and athletic are ever-increasing. A huge study was recently released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) called the “America’s High School Graduates“ (PDF). Within the report, the high school transcript study analyzes transcripts from public and private high school graduates so that they can inform the public on things like our nation’s average GPA. The results of this study? It seems that high school students are taking more rigorous course loads and earning higher grade point averages. Overall GPAs increased from 2.68 in 1990 to 3.00 in 2009 with increasing course loads. Some other main points from the study include:

• In 2009, graduates earned over three credits more than their 1990 counterparts, or about 420 additional hours of instruction during their high school careers.
• A greater percentage of 2009 graduates complete more challenging curriculum levels than 1990 or 2005 graduates.

As an athletic trainer at Academic Magnet, one of the top academically acclaimed high schools in the nation, I see this fine line of kids balancing a full academic load with athletic responsibilities tip toed across on a daily basis. I often see my athletes doing their homework on the bus to away games, in study hall during shared gym time, or in the stands and/or sidelines before they play. In order to keep these two important aspects of a child’s life organized, as well as being successful, there are a number of things your student athlete can do to make both activities enjoyable and not a constant struggle.

Realize the commonalities of the two

Being successful in anything requires discipline. The same focus and determination you put towards your conditioning, technique, and workouts at practice can be applied to your studies, test preparation and effort towards projects and writing papers. Sports can provide a welcome relief to a long reading assignment. While conversely, academics can help teach you logic and problem solving which you can put to good use on the field.

Don’t over-commit yourself

While being a well-rounded student is important, enjoying your high school and not spreading yourself too thin is equally so. Practices and competitions are typically after school and in the evenings…times when non-athletes can go home and focus on homework, other extra-curricular activities, or hanging out with friends. Leaving some breathing room in your (already tight) schedule for some personal time will ensure that you don’t burn out. If you aren’t working at your full potential, both your schoolwork and your athletic abilities will suffer.

Time Management

Perhaps the most important key to balancing both academics and sports is learning to manage your time. You must make the most of every minute, or you will be miserable; there is no room for procrastination in this balancing act. When you’ve got both a demanding course load and a heavy practice schedule, you have very little time to waste. You’ve got to learn to make the most of the time that you have. Sit down on a weekly basis, and plan out your week ahead. Plan and schedule each thing that you can. Schedule set times for studying and stick to it. Distribute your time in the most efficient way possible in order to accomplish your goals. Take a look at your daily schedule and determine the ways to optimize your available time with more studying, more sleep, and time spent decompressing with family and friends. I asked one of my seniors, a multi-sport athlete (football and lacrosse), secretary of Spanish National Honor Society, President of Beach Volleyball club and an executive member of numerous clubs, how he manages all those commitments in addition to taking 5 AP classes all the while maintaining a 4.4GPA. His response was quite simple. “It’s the routine. If I don’t play a sport, I kind of just float around, but if you get a routine going of practice, get home, eat, shower, homework; it’s just way easier. And definitely don’t procrastinate because you come home tired. Also, use your time wisely at school”. So there you have it…out of the mouth of someone who walks that tight rope everyday.

Staying Motivated

Keeping your eye on the prize will help keep things in perspective. It’s easy to wonder why in the world you decided to take on both sports and academics, when you feel everything is coming down on you while you see your friends out having a good time. Remind yourself that this is what you wanted and that both things are equally important. Keep a positive attitude and remember that all of your hard work will pay off. Most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy your school experience as well as your sport. Don’t get so caught up in the demand of it all that you forget to enjoy yourself!