Is it possible to be a student-athlete?
Or will your teen end up feeling like they’re in a vise, being squeezed by both their coaches and professors? Are academics and athletics always in competition with each other?
“We are worried about our daughter being able to succeed academically if she’s involved in college athletics.” If this is your fear, you’re not alone. In my ten years of coaching collegiately at three different colleges, this was by far the most common concern from parents.
Here’s what I would say to you if you were in my office:
Can my teen play college athletics and succeed academically?
The short answer is “YES”…if your teen is willing to sacrifice and work hard.
I won’t lie to you. It’s not going to be easy.
College athletics demands more time than high school sports. There’s more practice time and travel time. There are fitness sessions, weight workouts, and visits to the trainer.
On top of that, college academics are more challenging than high school coursework. By design. the homework assigned in college classes takes more time to complete.
In order to keep up with the demands of both the coaches and professors student-athletes have to hustle on and off the field. Your teen may have to sacrifice social activities or weekend trips. But it’s entirely possible for committed athletes to excel academically.
The student-athlete and in-season grades
Most parents who sat in my office asked, “Will my daughter’s grades suffer during the season?” I always enjoyed this conversation because the reality surprises parents.
1. Every year I coached, our average team GPA was higher during the semester in which we were “in season” than it was in our “off-season”. In most seasons the difference was significant (3.5 in season vs 3.2 off season). This is consistent with what I have found speaking to dozens of other coaches about their student-athletes.
2. The lowest average team GPA any of my teams ever had was 3.1 and our highest was 3.7. Believe it or not, the 3.7 was “in season”.
3. There were always a few players who were below a 3.0. I always believed it was a lack of effort, not intellect or time that held them back.
If your athlete is committed to success, being in-season becomes a time for dialed-in focus. And that dialed-in focus equals success in every area of life.
What does all of this mean for a student-athlete?
It means it is not an issue of time. College athletes have the ability to make time for all their commitments. And many teams institute study sessions to ensure athletes complete their homework and study for tests. Even on road trips teams take time to study.
This is an issue that showcases the work ethic, discipline, and character of each student-athlete.
What about missing classes due to athletic commitments?
NCAA rules prevent athletes from missing class for practice, but how does this play out in real life? Will your teen be able to get the classes they need and still be at practice every day?
At every college, there will be a natural tension between the expectations of your professors and your coach. Each believes what they are doing is the most important place your teen should be. Most professors work with athletes and their schedules. Every once in a while, a professor will penalize your teen in class because of an athletic commitment. There are a few sticklers at every institution.
But these instances are rare.
College athletes across the spectrum of schools and divisions, not only survive but thrive academically and athletically. The university created the student-athlete role. Colleges consider it their responsibility to ensure their students have the opportunity and ability to be successful in both areas.
Coaches and upperclassmen can help your athlete work through most of the sticky situations. Coaches are interested in seeing their team do well in the classroom. Coaches care for their players and want the best for them. Every college coach I have interacted with sincerely understands sport will be only four years. But for almost all their athletes, academics are preparing them for their careers.
Are there some majors that don’t allow time for athletics?
Unfortunately, there are some majors that don’t allow enough time for students to also compete in athletics. The time requirements of the major may be so great, there’s not enough time to combine that with a demanding practice and competition schedule.
How can you find out if the major your teen is considering will mesh well with the demands of the athletic program? Ask the coach. Don’t be shy. Just ask, “Are there any majors that don’t work well with your sport?”
At the last college where I coached, there were a couple of majors that didn’t fit with athletics. I was upfront with players interested in those majors.
Music and choir majors could not do both because the classes and performances overlapped with practices and games considerably.
I had many education majors come through my program, but it was a challenge for them their junior and, especially, their senior year as they spent more time student teaching. Upper-level education classes were taught in the late afternoons when we practiced.
I loved having science majors on my teams, but sometimes their labs would run late and they would miss portions of practice.
You may not think this is important now, but trust me, it will be. Make sure you ask the coach if your teen’s major will work with playing on the team. Usually, the conflicts won’t come until the junior or senior year, so you should be aware early of what those potential problems may be. Your teen may not be able to miss class for practice, but a coach has no obligation to play athletes who are not at practice. Your teen will be in the tough position of choosing between passing a class and earning playing time.
The routine of a student-athlete
The routine for a college student-athlete is very structured.
Your athlete should expect to wake up early. Work out. Then spend their day in classes and go to practices. They’ll spend their evenings studying and then to bed.
An athlete’s life will be far different from those students who do not play sports. Your teen will have little free time.
But for driven athletes who excel both on and off the field, there’s time for both athletics and academics. In a very real sense, this college schedule prepares student-athletes for the demands of real life.
How to Get Recruited: Get all the knowledge you need to confidently help your teen become a college athlete.