Money Smart Athlete Blog

Balancing Sports Performance and Grades: Student Athletes and the importance of Education

Jun 24, 2020 | Athlete Development

By Niovie Constantinou, Contributor

Time and again we have pointed out the challenges posed by following a career in sport, the biggest one being uncertainty as to the longevity of an athlete’s career. Professional athletes must acknowledge that their career in sport may potentially last up to a third of their adult lifetime, and plan appropriately for life after it. Education is a great foundation to make the career transition easier, and many famous athletes have taken this path, such as soccer icon Mia Hamm who holds a degree in political science. It may seem difficult to combine a sports career with an education and, at times, it may feel like the two areas are competing priorities. However, with the right attitude, they can enhance each other.

Evidence suggests that combining a sports career and education can benefit both academic and sporting performance in that, on the one hand, it motivates and stimulates the athletes intellectually and as Professor Ian Henry, director of the Centre for Olympic Studies and Research at Loughborough University, has explained, it helps them “put their training and performance into perspective, allowing them to deal more effectively with the challenges of sport, including setbacks and injury”. 

On the other hand, sport provides them with excellent organizational skills that are necessary in any career path and which would benefit them throughout their lifetime; helps them keep both physically and mentally healthy, and even boosts their employment prospects in other fields. Indeed, research by British Universities and Sport suggests that employers are looking for traits such as teamwork, decision-making and the ability to balance academic and sporting commitments, all evident in athlete students.

It is important for athletes to acknowledge that once they decide to embark on their academic journey, they should prioritize their education and aim to do well, not only because a certain GPA is necessary for student-athletes to become professional players, but because they may actually come to make use of their degree sooner than they think.

Athletes who are in the process of selecting a university, should take into consideration both the athletic and academic opportunities that the institution has to offer: there are now many resources available to help young athletes choose the right institution, such as the International Olympic Committee’s Athlete’s Kit which includes a useful section on education. It is worth spending time to go through the different options in order to make an informed decision as to the institution and also the type of degree and major that the athlete will pursue.

To ensure that as a student athlete you make the most of your education, and to achieve striking a balance between sport and academics, we would advise you to:

  • Prioritize: you are committed to both your education and your training at the same time; however, education comes first, as you are not guaranteed an athletic career. At the same time, you need to recognize that you may need to make sacrifices in other areas of your life, such as social events, in order to be on track.
  • Plan and manage your time well: as an athlete and a student, sports and academics will take up most of your time; however, if you make a plan once you get your syllabus and training schedule, you will feel more in control, you will avoid getting stressed during your free time and you will actually be able to enjoy it!
  • Make time to relax: you have a lot on your plate and the last thing you need is burning out! It is important that your plan incorporates breaks and frequent catch ups with friends and family, so as to keep a balance.
  • If you’re struggling with juggling the two, seek advice: from your parents, your trainer, your tutors; you do not have to go through this experience alone, nor make it a stressful one.
  • Enjoy it: try to make this journey as enjoyable as possible, this is why it is important to pick a major you find interesting.

Finally, remember that you are not only building your career but also your brand, so start thinking about the values you wish to portray, make sure to maintain a positive image, and take advantage of any networking opportunities on and off campus. Balancing sports performance and grades is indeed a challenging task, however, the benefits you gain from it far outweigh any obstacles you may face, and be sure that in a few years from now you will be glad that you have made the decision to pursue a degree. Good luck!