Australian culture celebrates sport and the outdoors, and ours is a lifestyle to envy. Most Australian children benefit from the physical skills, fitness, brain development and social and team skills that exercise and sport bring, from a very early age right through to adulthood. But how much emphasis on sport is too much in a student’s life?
In her article ‘Tips for helping teens balance school and sport’, coach Jeanne Goodes points to the importance of finding the right balance:
“With an emphasis on children specializing in one sport, year round, the stress of doing well in a sport can easily override the necessity to do well in school. But this does not have to be the case for student athletes. Statistically, research indicates that youth who participate in sports, whether school or community sports, perform better academically than children who do not participate in sports.”
Whether or not a student is working towards a professional sports career, a balance must be found between study, sports and leisure and family time. And as Goodes points out, while adults may be able to see the warning signs of stress caused by imbalance, children and teens will need support in order to recognize and balance their lives and maintain mental and physical health, as well as achieve success in school and sports.
Founder of a top US tutoring service, David Serwitz suggests actively teaching time management skills to help students find this balance.
“When students are in sports, they have daily practices, regular travels for games and tournaments, and many demands on their time — and of course for many kids, homework is the least appealing of those responsibilities.” Skills like keeping a timetable, goal setting and reflecting on the level of success and balance in your week are not innate but learned, and can be fostered both at school and at home through deliberate conversations.
Serwitz also suggests watching for signs of a problem, as not all students will naturally take to time management. Tell-tale signs of problems juggling the demands of sport and school include a drop in grades, lack of motivation (in either sport or school), and physical illness when it’s time to participate. He reminds us that ‘sports are fun. When students stop having fun, it’s time to re-evaluate whether they should consider a new sport or stop altogether.’ (Source: ‘Extracurricular Activities: The Sports & School Balance’, http://www.teachhub.com/extracurricular-activities-sports-school-balance)
There are many ways to support the student who is struggling to keep to a balanced timetable, is no longer enjoying their sport or is failing to achieve to their potential in the classroom. As mentioned, open discussions go a long way to expressing emotions, reflecting on issues and finding solutions, and this can be done at home, at school or through a mediator such as a school counselor, who is skilled in helping to open a dialogue about these issues. Students also benefit greatly from added academic and sports coaching, sports clinics and exam preparation workshops to fast-track their skills, keep them on task and get through their workload. Most importantly, children and teens going through challenges of balancing their responsibilities should be helped to feel that they are not alone; that they are experiencing a common problem for which there can be found a solution.