How to Balance School and Athletics for the High School Student Athlete
The High School Student Athlete
For those who have teenage children, you may know what it means to have a child who is a student athlete in high school. When I was in high school being a student athlete wasn't easy, but it wasn't anything like it is today. You had practice each day after school when it was the season for your chosen sport, and you might have a month during the summer where you participated in your given sport with the school depending on the sport, but it was not required. Sports today for the student athlete are more like a full-time job. If your child expects to be competitive within their respective sport they will spend countless hours in season and during off-season practicing and competing in their chosen sport.
High school is hard enough for those who do not play sports. When you add in the pressure of making and competing on a high school team it can be a bit overwhelming for both the child and the parents. There is a fine line to balancing schoolwork and their respective sport, and sometimes it is hard to maintain that balance. I will share my experiences of my son's freshman year as a student athlete. Hopefully, my experience will help someone who is about to face the same situation or maybe you can relate based on your own experiences with your children.
All images contained on this page are my own personal images unless noted otherwise.
The Pressures of a Student Athlete to Excel
Going to high school and adapting is hard enough. Your child will not only find themselves in a new unfamiliar place with new people they may not know, but also the added pressure of having different classes they have to find and higher expectations put on them by the teachers and possibly their parents. How they perform in school now affects their future, with grades being part of their permanent record.
On top of the typical high school pressures, the student athlete now also has the pressure of how they perform on the field, court, on the mat, in the pool, etc. There is no more everybody makes the team. In many schools there is far more interest in the sports than there are spots on a team, so that means some kids getting cut or sitting the bench. For those who do make the team they are trying out for they have not only the pressure to do well by their coaches, but they also have the pressure of their teammates, of their parents, and the pressure the student athlete puts on themselves to not only keep their spot on the team, but to excel so that they standout from everyone else.
It is important as a parent to ensure that you are supportive of your child. Some parents have the tendency to push too hard and to try and live out their dreams of being a star athlete through their child. I have seen this first hand through not only other kids, but also with my own child. His father tried to push too hard, and it caused my son to walk away from wrestling all together for awhile. You can't want it more than your child does. They have to be the one who wants it and you should be there to support them. There is nothing wrong with pushing a little when you can see they are struggling, but it is important to remember that you are their parent and leave the coaching up to the professionals, the coaches.
Helpful Tools for the Student Athlete
What if Your Student Athlete Does Not Like School?
Depending on the child, dealing with the student athlete can be different in every circumstance. Some parents have kids who excel in school and struggle more with their chosen sport. Some have the opposite problem and have kids who struggle in school or do not like school and excel in their chosen sport. Or, if you are one of the lucky one's you have a child who excels in both. For this parent life is a lot easier.
I happen to have a child who excels in his chosen sport, which is wrestling, but the schoolwork is more of a struggle. Unfortunately, my teenage son Tyler, does not like school and never has. He finds school to be boring and lacks focus. He is a relatively good student, with about a 3.0 GPA, but at times if I don't stay on top of his schoolwork then he tends to let some things fall through the cracks. To try and keep him on track I have done the following...
1. He is required to complete an agenda daily for each class so that he does not forget about an assignment or test. The agenda is something the school requires each student purchase at the beginning of the year.
2. As soon as he gets home I ask him if he has any homework, and if so, what it is.
3. Homework is to be completed as soon as he gets home from school or as soon as he gets home from practice.
4. I have him show me his completed homework to ensure it is getting done (I only do this when assignments are not being turned in or if he is getting bad grades on assignments).
5. Grades for his school are accessible by parents online, so I check the Parentlink site a few times a week to ensure not only his homework is getting done, but also to see how he is doing on his classwork and tests.
6. If his grades really started to suffer he would not be allowed to go to practice, which means the coach would not let him compete in the next match due to an unexcused absence. (Luckily, I never had to impose this rule, but knowing it was a possibility helped to keep him on track).
I know some of these items seem tedious, but for a child who is not interested in school I have found that it is necessary to ensure he stays on track. As long as I can see he is doing what he is supposed to do, then I may back off and not check everything everyday. As a high school student it is definitely important for your child to learn some independence, and at times it is necessary to allow your child to fail so they will understand the true consequences to their actions, but if you can teach your child to be organized and to follow a routine the likelihood of them failing is much less. Just test what works best for you and your child. I know my son can get stressed very easily about his schoolwork, so I try and find a fine line of making sure he is getting things done without being overbearing.
Photo Credit: albertogp123 via CC
Do You Think Too Much is Required of High School Students Competing in Sports Today?
High School Sports - A Full-Time Job
My son Tyler will be entering his sophomore year of high school next year. As a freshman, he made the varsity wrestling team at the 106 pound weight class. For anyone who has ever wrestled or known someone who has wrestled, you should know that being around a wrestler who is trying to cut or maintain weight for a match can be unbearable. Add the pressure of not only trying to cut or maintain weight, but also to keep your spot on the varsity team as a freshman, and the load of schoolwork, and that can be a lot to handle.
When I say high school sports are a full-time job this is not an exaggeration. Before the season starts the wrestling team starts intramurals, which is essentially practice, mainly conditioning, 5 days a week for about 2 to 3 hours. During the season they have mandatory practices 5 or 6 days a week for about 3 hours a day when they do not have meets. Once the season begins he typically has 1 to 2 meets a week and he typically does not get home until about 9pm when there is a meet. In addition, there are tournaments almost every weekend. A tournament is an all day event, and in some cases a two day event, which means missing a day of school on a Friday and the headache of making up classwork, homework, and tests. Many of the tournaments my son's team attended were out of state, which also means travel time as well. Depending on how well a wrestler does in a tournament and the tournament size they can wrestle up to 5 matches in a day.
The high school season is just the beginning. After the high school season ends there is about a week or two of break and then practices and off-season matches and weightlifting starts right back up. For the school my son attends, they had weightlifting 3 days a week and practice twice a week. While school was still in session, they attended tournaments every other weekend as a team. My son is a bit obsessive when it comes to wrestling, so he was actually wrestling in tournaments every weekend, and unfortunately most were out of state.
Once school was over, wrestling became almost non-stop for the month of June. They attended various team tournaments and camps and several individuals on the team reached over 100 off-season matches by the end of June. Tyler is currently at 117 off-season matches and continues to practice and/or lift weights in the month of July and will be attending a 10 day intensive camp at the end of July. While not everyone on the team is as dedicated as Tyler, if you want to win your spot on the team and have a chance at competing for a state ttile, the off-season preparation is absolutely necessary. Those who don't participate in off-season may have a chance at making the team, but the likelihood of excelling or being recruited to play or participate in college is far less likely without all of the hard work and dedication.
If you think Tyler's wrestling is intense and excessive, there are those kids that also compete in tournaments at the regional and national level. Tyler did compete at one regional tournament, but some of these athletes compete at all of the qualifying events to compete in nationals in Fargo, North Dakota to try and obtain All-American status by placing at this national event. This gives the elite athlete the much needed exposure to possibly get recruited by colleges and also the experience to possibly put them in a position to try and wrestle for the U.S. National Team.
Helpful Tips for Parents of a Student Athlete
- Make sure you communicate with your child. It is important to see where your child's head is to see if they are being overwhelmed by school or sports. Remember, they are probably not going to just come out and tell you there is a problem, so talk to them to see how things are going.
- If your child is overwhelmed by school, see what type of tutoring is available or speak to his or her teachers or counselors to see how you can help.
- Don't let your child push themselves to the point of an injury. I know it can be hard to tell your child no, but if your child is competitive like mine, at times you may have to tell them to take a break or cut back to avoid injury. While sports are important your child's long-term health should be a bigger concern.
- Watch out for any changes in mood or behavior. These could be signs of a problem or that they are becoming overwhelmed by either school or sports.
- Even though sports are important, in reality, the education is probably going to get your child farther in life. If your child is unable to maintain a good balance between school and sports, you may have to make the decision to cut back on the sports until you and your child can find a way to balance both.
- Remember, your child is just that, a child. Make sure they are having fun! While it is important to prepare for their future, it is also important to experience life and to be a kid every once in awhile.
Useful Links For the High School Athlete Planning to Compete in Athletics in College
- Guide to Becoming a Student Athlete in College
Information on what to expect in the recruiting process and criteria that must be met to become a student athlete in college.
- NCAA Clearinghouse
Guide and registration for high school student athletes who plan on competing at and attending a Division I or II college or university.
- NAIA Eligibility Center
A list of college and universities that compete in the NAIA. Eligibility requirements and registration information.