In high school athletics, the pressure is on to perform in both the sports arena and in the classroom. For many, it can be difficult to succeed in either place.
The key is to effectively manage time, said coaches, educators and the athletes themselves.
For example, student athletes at Rock Bridge High School take advantage of the school’s nontraditional block scheduling — in which classes meet every other weekday, for a longer period of time — to catch up with or get ahead on homework.
Vicki Reimler, athletics director at Rock Bridge, said most of the students she’s talked with do a better job managing their time when they have full schedules.
“They realize that they only have a certain amount of time to get their work done, making them sometimes more disciplined during the season than in the off-season,” Reimler said.
Omeed Latifi, a sophomore tennis player at Hickman, said time management can be a problem. “Sometimes it’s hard to focus on both school and tennis — especially on those days you have a match and a big paper or test the next day,” he said.
But, he acknowledged, “sometimes not having time forces me to get my work done because I don’t have time to procrastinate.”
Courtney Cumbie, a Rock Bridge soccer player, said sometimes it’s hard to get everything done.
“Between school and soccer, I don’t have much time for anything else,” Courtney said. “But I think it’s important for me to be able to manage my time, and that’s what I’ve been learning.”
Doug Mirts, athletic director at Hickman, said coaches are critical in helping students balance competing workloads of academics and athletics.
“We have experienced coaches that are trained to help students in high pressure situations,” Mirts said. “We have those types of coaches that are able to read their athletes and help them through those situations when they’re feeling overwhelmed.”
Mirts also said it’s important to know what type of pressure athletes can and can’t handle. “Coaches are able to know this from working with an athlete every day and being able to read them,” he said.
Mirts said struggling students should ask for help. “We have many coaches that are also teachers,” he said, “and if a coach can’t help them, we can set them up with a tutor.”
Mirts acknowledged that sometimes the pressure can get the best of students, which is why some choose not to continue in college.
Richard Cox, a professor of education in counseling psychology, said it’s a given that student athletes face multiple pressures and family support is imperative.
“They need to learn those skills that give them the ability to balance both academics and athletic involvement,” Cox said, “and it’s important that parental support focuses on the best interest of the child.”
Cox said time management skills need to be taught. “It’s beneficial for athletes to spend time with someone who can teach them these skills that aren’t necessarily innate, and oftentimes the best person for this is a coach,” he said.
Shana Porteen, a doctoral student in MU’s sociology department who teaches a class in the sociology of sport, said sports has the power to both unite and divide people. “In some high schools, athletes have been pushed along for the simple purpose that they have talent — and that fact in itself provides stress,” she said.
Porteen said one of the biggest pressures athletes face comes from fans, who are prone to both praise and criticize their favorite athletes.
She said one criticism some university athletic departments have with high school athletics is that athletes don’t know how to balance books and sports when they enter college.
“Unfortunately, certain children are groomed for college only in terms of athletics, and academics suffer,” Porteen said. “It’s something that you can’t blame schools for, but it’s more of a societal problem, and oftentimes there are no other role models for these children.”
One way athletes can help reconcile their athletic and academic lives is to visit with a sports psychologist, such as Alan Goldberg, head of Competitive Advantage in Amherst, Mass.
“When kids have problems with sports, it’s not related to mechanics,” Goldberg said.
In some cases, the students address feelings of being overwhelmed with visualization or concentration exercises. “The problem usually lies in the matter that resides between their ears.”