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The Press Box: Students Balancing School, Sports

By Randy Rutherford - Sports Writer | May 5, 2021

For student athletes balancing school work and playing sports can be a true hardship. Whether they don’t have time after school to finish their school work that remains incomplete or they are exhausted from practice, it can be very difficult for students to manage the responsibilities of performing both tasks successfully.

A study completed by Ohio University claims 31% of students in the US feel overwhelmed by stress, and I bet that number would rise substantially if the pandemic were factored in, too. There were a variety of factors labeled as stress producers by the kids, but the main one was school and homework followed by participating in sports as a close second.

It can be tricky figuring the role sports play for our young people. Some kids find sports help them deal with the stress school puts on them. One student athlete shared how relieved they are when school is finally over for the day, and they are headed to practice or a game. This student went on to explain school seems to “tie their brain up,” but when they are on the field doing what they love, doesn’t matter if it is practice or a game, they feel free. For this student and kids like them, sports help them cope with stress.

Often as adults, we are guilty of forgetting youth have busy schedules, too. If it wasn’t already hard enough for kids in 2021, they must navigate handling the limitations of COVID, changing hormone levels, social struggles and family difficulties in the middle of a pandemic. I remember during my early coaching days as an assistant having a double header out of town on prom Saturday. It made it so hard on the kids trying to get home safely and be on time to meet friends or pick up a date. No young man ever wants to explain to his prom date’s parents his tardy arrival.

The best advice I can offer to kids and their parents today to handle the stress that comes from being a student athlete are the life lessons I’ve learned along the way. Some I got under my belt early in my journey. Some I am still working on.

The first and most important skill set is Communication. Most young people have difficulty dealing with communication especially if it is talking directly to an adult face to face. But if kids can build the skill of talking with their teachers and coaches to share their scheduling problems or asking for support, most of the time adults are willing to help.

Don’t wait until the problem is out of control; speak up early. Ask teachers and coaches to help you develop a plan that will give you the best chance at being successful in the classroom and on the athletic field.

Time Management is a skill you will need for the rest of your life. Develop it early. Use an app on your phone or do it the old fashioned way and write it down on a daily calendar. Keeping track of your daily schedule and responsibilities is the easiest and best way to bring order to your life. Most big tests are scheduled well before test day, so communicate with your teachers in advance.

Schedule everything. School hours, study time, training and games. When you write everything down, you can see at a glance how much time you truly have in your day.

Don’t forget to schedule some down time, too.

Everyone needs a brain break for peace of mind and body.

This is a hard one for a lot of people. Don’t Procrastinate. It is such a slippery slope. Saying you will do your homework or attack an assignment after just one round of Fortnite with your buddies or going down the rabbit hole on your phone with girlfriends is dangerous. By getting the jump on assignments and out of your way it frees up time and keeps you ahead of other deadlines. Especially when the unknown happens and spills the apple cart; you will be able to confidently tackle what’s trying to take you down.

This last one is a skill some kids often take years to develop. Sacrifice. Everyone knows there are only 24 hours in a day. When you divide your responsibilities into blocks of time and schedule them, often something has to go. What are the most important things in a student athlete’s life? Only that athlete can answer the question. No amount of coaxing can push a student athlete to care about something if their heart isn’t in it. But consider this. There will always be more video games to play, parties to attend and nights out with friends. Decide what is important and then make the sacrifice to do it well. Remember, there are a limited number of hours in any given day. Choose wisely.

The toughest part about learning this skill set is once kids think they have it all figured out, the next year changes everything up, and it becomes even harder with more school work, more practice, more games and more responsibility. Yep. That’s life in a nutshell. High school struggles and roadblocks turn into college and job training struggles. But I can promise each student athlete that makes the commitment to the classroom and their sport, the life lessons you learn along the way will serve you well in the years to come. So I say to parents, grandparents, and concerned adults, grab a few of these useful tips and help your favorite student athlete find a healthy balance in their career. I promise it will build a strong work ethic in the classroom as well as develop a competitive edge to excel in their sport.