The Art of Balancing School & Sport
How to keep the focus as a student athlete
I have quite extensive experience in trying to balance my academics at University and striving to train hard for a sport that I'm dedicated to. Going to Brunel University London to study product design, which was a very full-on, coursework driven course that required a lot of hours, I faced challenges in finding a balance in my life between this and wanting to train at a high level for rowing.
My experiences of rowing were a little different, as I wasn't competing for my University, but for a public club. This meant that the club training times weren't very conscious about my academic commitments and vice versa. So I had to find balance, and below are my tips for how (and this took about 4 years to realise and start to live by).
I've been watching a lot of American sports documentaries recently about kids in college, and the classic situation coming from these athletes are that school is awful, they hate it, and they just want to do sports because that's their way out.
Having vision of the future importance of school takes some maturity and I think it hits people at different times. For me, it was when injuries started to plague me in rowing and I had a lot of time to contemplate my future, which was potentially not involving the sport for much longer.
Just remember which word comes first in student-athlete and try to be mature about making choices that will affect your long term future, not just short term.
Dedication is a bit of a given, but in this I'm going to link it to those difficult moments when you are feeling low; low grades, poor training scores, and bad results in games can affect you and make you question why you're doing all of this.
Everyone goes through blips, but coming back to your vision and remembering what your reasons are for going to school and doing sports can help. I used to write down a paragraph at the beginning of each term of my goals for both academics and sport and would come back to it in times of questioning.
There will also be times when you become bored or disillusioned with your training, and in these times I found it helped to look to other sports. I became really interested in the kind of agility training that NFL athletes did and would start to program some of that content for myself. This can help spark a new interest in your training, which is something you need to keep evolving to enjoy the process.
In my first couple of years at University I had to force myself to get my school work done so that I could be rewarded with going to the gym or getting on the water. This didn't always work, as training times were often set or I would take too long to get my work done and the gym was closed, or I'd just sack off work and go to training anyway.
The consequence of this was poor time management and being fundamentally weak-minded with very little discipline. In my third and fourth year I adopted the premise that school and training were EQUALLY important. In this I worked so much harder to get my work done to a high level (for me) and then dedicate all my efforts to training.
Switching on and off between the two gave me great life balance and time management and I didn't allow myself to slack on either one because I was then mature enough to know that to succeed in both, I had to dedicate the right amount of time to each. This skill goes really far in life as well, I've been using it in my Masters and I'm sure that it will apply really well in the workplace too.
Ask for help
Realising that you are not alone in either process is essential to keeping yourself healthy. I've been studying a Master's degree this year alongside playing rugby for my University and the demands of the course as well as personal issues arising made it very difficult for me at times to commit to training and to get the best out of myself academically.
I had to turn to people around me, friends, family and coaches to help relieve some of the stress and re-centre my focusses. One of the biggest things affecting me at this time was a lack of control and so I had to start to focus on what I could control. Food, exercise and sleep became my focus and after a while my stresses were relieved and I could find balance again.
Asking for help can be hard and embarrassing, but at the end of the day, the people around you want you to be on top form, and in academics and sport, the systems are in place to help you in times of need, so turn to them.
So these are some of my suggestions for keeping a well-rounded life at University or college whilst trying to achieve great things in sport alongside. I'm sure there are other great tips and everyone deals with these things differently.
Ultimately I think that just the fact that your trying to do both of these side by side means you're a strong-willed and dedicated person, and these traits will set you up really well in life.