Exam season is almost upon us and as coaches, we understand the challenges young athletes face while striving for excellence in their sport and academic pursuits. The unfortunate reality is that exams often coincide with our outdoor track season, leaving student-athletes torn between their passion for athletics and the necessity of academic success (Murphy, 2018). In this Beagle Bites, I will provide some guidance on how coaches and parents can help their athletes achieve a healthy balance between these two important aspects of their lives.
The Importance of Academics
First and foremost, we must acknowledge that only a small percentage of athletes will reach the level where they will earn a living from their sport (Lavallee & Wylleman, 2000). Therefore, it is essential for student-athletes to prioritise their education, as good results here can lead to better career opportunities and university placements that may ultimately benefit their ongoing athletic development (Gaston-Gayles, 2004).
Supporting Athletes with Different Attitudes towards Exams
- Athletes who struggle to see the relevance of exams – Many young athletes find it difficult to understand the importance of academic success in their lives (Brown & Fletcher, 2017). As coaches, we should remind them that achieving good grades can open doors to better opportunities, such as attending universities with excellent sports facilities and support programs. Encouraging your athletes to adopt an organised approach to revision can make the process more efficient and effective (Côté, 2002). We should also emphasise the downside of last-minute cramming and late-night revision, which can disrupt sleep and negatively impact both academic and athletic performance (Thacher, 2008).
- Conscientious athletes striving for academic success – For student-athletes who are highly motivated to excel academically, coaches and parents need to help them manage stress levels and prevent unhealthy obsession with their studies (Gould, 1993). Reinforcing the importance of sleep and avoiding late-night revision can significantly improve overall well-being and performance (Fullagar et al., 2015). Moreover, we should encourage athletes to view their training sessions as a healthy break from their studies, which can help improve focus and memory (Tomporowski et al., 2008). It’s critical to remind these athletes that they are more than their exam results and setbacks in academics do not define them as individuals.
Tips for Balancing Academics and Sports
Achieving a healthy balance between academics and sports can significantly enhance a student-athlete’s well-being and overall performance. There is a lot that could be said here that may help but from experience, there are several core strategies to help student-athletes that will effectively manage their academic and athletic commitments:
- Time management – Effective time management is important for student-athletes. Encourage them to create a weekly schedule, allocating specific time slots for training, studying and relaxation (Gupta et al., 2012). This will help them stay organised and focused on their priorities while reducing the likelihood of procrastination and burnout.
- Revision techniques – Utilise efficient revision techniques such as active recall, spaced repetition and interleaving (Dunlosky et al., 2013). These strategies enable student-athletes to better retain information and make the most of their limited study time.
- Encourage breaks and downtime – Help student-athletes understand the importance of taking regular breaks during their study sessions. Short breaks can improve focus, productivity and mental well-being (Ariga & Lleras, 2011). Additionally, scheduling downtime for relaxation and social activities can help reduce stress and maintain motivation.
- Collaboration and support – Encourage student-athletes to form study groups with their peers or seek academic support from tutors and teachers. Collaborative learning can foster a sense of camaraderie and provide a network of support, making the academic experience more enjoyable and efficient (Slavin, 2014).
- Communication with teachers and coaches – Open communication between student-athletes, teachers, and coaches is essential for managing expectations and addressing potential conflicts between academic and athletic schedules (Petrie & Hong, 2010). Keeping everyone informed can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure that student-athletes receive the support they need to excel in both areas.
- Prioritisation and goal setting – Help student-athletes set realistic, achievable goals for both their academics and sport. Teach them how to prioritise tasks and allocate time according to the importance and urgency of their goals (Locke & Latham, 2002). This can enhance their sense of control and accomplishment.
- Emphasise the importance of sleep and nutrition – Good sleep and proper nutrition are essential for optimal cognitive and athletic performance (Halson, 2014). Encourage student-athletes to establish a regular sleep schedule and maintain a balanced diet, as these factors significantly impact their ability to manage the demands of their academics and sport.
Implementing these strategies will help our student-athletes to create a more sustainable and healthy balance between their academic and athletic commitments, allowing them to thrive in both areas and enjoy a fulfilling, well-rounded life.
As coaches, our role extends beyond the track and field. Understanding and supporting our athletes in their quest for academic success means that we can help them achieve a fulfilling and well-rounded outlook that accommodates their desire to excel in both fields. Want to know more about how we can help during exams? Reach out here.
- Ariga, A., & Lleras, A. (2011). Brief and rare mental “breaks” keep you focused: Deactivation and reactivation of task goals preempt vigilance decrements. Cognition, 118(3), 439-443.
- Brown, C. J., & Fletcher, D. (2017). Effects of psychological and psychosocial interventions on sport performance: A meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 47(1), 77-99.
- Côté, J. (2002). Coach and peer influence on children’s development through sport. In J.M. Silva & D.E. Stevens (Eds.), Psychological foundations of sport (pp. 520-540). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
- Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58.
- Fullagar, H. H., Skorsletten, M. A., Duffield, R., Hammes, D., Vanrenterghem, J., & Roelands, B. (2015). Sleep and athletic performance: The effects of sleep loss on exercise performance, and physiological and cognitive responses to exercise. Sports Medicine, 45(2), 161-186.
- Gaston-Gayles, J. L. (2004). Examining academic and athletic motivation among student-athletes at a Division I university. Journal of College Student Development, 45(1), 75-83.
- Gould, D. (1993). Intensive sport participation and the prepubescent athlete: Competitive stress and burnout. In B. R. Cahill & A. J. Pearl (Eds.), Intensive participation in children’s sports (pp. 19-38). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Gupta, R., Hershey, D. A., & Gaur, J. (2012). Time perspective and procrastination in the workplace: An empirical investigation. Current Psychology, 31(2), 195-211.
- Halson, S. L. (2014). Sleep in elite athletes and nutritional interventions to enhance sleep. Sports Medicine, 44(Suppl 1), S13-S23.
- Lavallee, D., & Wylleman, P. (2000). Career transitions in sport: International perspectives. Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.
- Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychologist, 57(9), 705-717.
- Murphy, S. M. (2018). The relationship between stress and sport, exercise, and physical activity participation in high school students. The Sport Journal, 21(1). Retrieved from https://thesportjournal.org/article/the-relationship-between-stress-and-sport-exercise-and-physical-activity-participation-in-high-school-students/
- Petrie, T. A., & Hong, S. (2010). The relationship between student-athlete coping, perceptions of the student-athlete culture, and sport performance: A mixed-methods study. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 4(3), 235-253.
- Slavin, R. E. (2014). Cooperative learning and academic achievement: Why does groupwork work? Anales de Psicología, 30(3), 785-791.
- Thacher, P. V. (2008). University students and the “all-nighter”: Correlates and patterns of students’ engagement in a single night of total sleep deprivation. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, 6(1), 16-31.
- Tomporowski, P. D., Lambourne, K., & Okumura, M. S. (2008). Physical activity interventions and children’s mental function: An introduction and overview. Preventive Medicine, 52(Supplement 1), S3-S9.