Most new college students struggle at first to establish routines that effectively manage the increased academic workload. Add to that the commitment that comes with being a student-athlete and it's easy to see how quickly someone can become overwhelmed.
Coaches and academic advisers can recommend ways to balance your academic and athletic obligations, but many new student-athletes quickly realize that there's a lot that's not said about the transition from high school to college, says Tim Elmore, founder of the Habitudes for Athletes program and president of Growing Leaders.
"From mandatory workouts (on top of regular practices) to meeting the required study hall hours, school work and extracurricular activities — if you're not intentional about running your schedule, your schedule will surely run you," Elmore says. "It's crucial to treat your time as your most valuable possession, allocating it cautiously and thoughtfully."
Sounds easier said than done, right? We consulted a panel of former student-athletes and professional tutors to provide tips to help put your time management plan into action! Take a look at what they have to say.
The nature of coaching is goal-oriented. Regardless of sport, coaches track things like wins, trophies, titles, points, assists, hours in the weight room and maybe even win-loss percentages. As such, student-athletes also become goal-oriented, says Eric Allen, former Brown University football player and president of Admit.me.
"Student-athletes need to start with goals to be successful," Allen says. This includes academic goals in addition to your athletic ones. Whether you're aiming for a certain GPA, to make the dean's list, to double major or something else specific to your academic journey, you'll lose your way if you're not pushing toward that goal.
It can be tough to figure out where to start for student-athletes who have a lot of factors competing for their time. On the field, track, court or mat, your workouts are mapped out for you. A good rule of thumb when tackling your academic responsibilities each week is to start with your most important task, says Yosepha Greenfield, former captain of the Yale University varsity women's basketball team and current marketing director for InGenius Prep.
"I know it's tempting to work on an easier or lower priority task first, but don't let yourself cave," she says. "If you have a final paper due that week that accounts for 50 percent of your grade, work on your paper first." Once you've checked off those big-ticket items from your list, you'll feel much better as you move onto lower priority tasks.
You'll likely get the hang of your new athletic routine pretty quickly — training typically occurs at the same times and places, while game schedules are planned far in advance. A helpful habit is to map out your academic schedule just as rigidly. Greg Stahl, the vice president of marketing at Varsity Tutors, suggests compiling a master schedule to view everything that's on your plate.
This includes scheduling dedicated time to work on homework and study. "By treating the designated study time as officially as the other commitments," Stahl says, "students can hold themselves accountable for meeting and balancing their goals in all areas of their student life."
One of the most important things you can do to keep your life on track is to establish an open dialogue with your professors early on in your academic journey. "On the first day of the semester, don't be afraid to approach your professor after class and introduce yourself," says Maizie Simpson, public relations and editorial lead at Magoosh online test prep, and former tutor for student-athletes at the University of Arizona.
If you explain to your professors the concerns you may have about balancing coursework with your athletic responsibilities, you can work through these hurdles early on. "Your professors will appreciate your initiative," Simpson says. "And you'll thank yourself when you don't have the uncomfortable task of asking for extensions later in the semester."
College brings about a newfound level of independence. Without your parents regularly checking in, it can be tough to stay committed to new study routines.
"Enlisting an 'accountability buddy' can be helpful," encourages Suzy Wilkoff, owner of Tasks Unlimited. Wilkoff also spent a number of years working in college football recruiting. She suggests partnering with one of your teammates to regularly check in at the beginning and end of each week to ensure you're both staying on top of your academic responsibilities.
"When a student-athlete has encouragement from someone dealing with the same issues, it can help with motivation," Wilkoff says. Keeping one another on track can also serve as a little competitive inspiration — something student-athletes are already all too familiar with.
Taking care of your body is a priority to stay at the top of your game athletically, but also to keep you healthy off the field. "You must sleep right and eat right," Greenfield urges. "While other students might be able to stay up late binging on Netflix, you don't have that luxury."
In order to perform both academically and athletically, you need to put yourself in a position to succeed. If you're exhausted from an all-night movie marathon or sore from an impromptu paintball session, you will struggle in your sport and in managing your time.
One of the most important things to keep in mind as you trek through the journey of becoming a student-athlete is that you can't let the "student" side of the equation fall to the wayside. "Start practicing and believing the idea that you are a student first, then an athlete," Elmore says.
He reminds student-athletes that even if their dream is to play their sport professionally, scouts will never see them play if they're academically ineligible.
Transitions in life are never easy — especially when you're pulling double duty representing yourself in the classroom and your school in the gym or on the field. Be sure to bookmark these tips from former student-athletes and tutoring professionals who understand the challenges you're facing, and you'll establish a successful routine in no time!
Whether your dream is to go pro in your sport, to get a great job in your major field or find some combination of the two, your journey begins here. And you may have more options than you realize! Check out six sports-related professions that can utilize both your athletic prowess and your academic acumen.