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The Student-Athlete Balance

By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA, CIC

As a coach, you expect your athletes to work hard and be totally committed to the team. You can provide skill instruction, install offensive and defensive systems, and employ conditioning techniques, but they are the ones who must learn, use, and refine these skills. This can only happen if they put in enough time and effort.

But what about the rest of their responsibilities? In high school athletics, we coach student-athletes—and the implication is that they are students first. What happens when being both a student and an athlete creates a time conflict?

Beyond school work, there are also a host of other co-curricular activities at your school, and your players should have the opportunity to experience them. Playing an instrument, acting in the school play, or participating in a club are all valuable experiences that help young people grow and learn

The bottom line is that, as a coach, you can expect your athletes to make a commitment to your team, but you must also find a way to allow them to get academic help and participate in other activities. The following are some suggestions to help your athletes balance being a good team member, taking care of academic responsibilities, and enjoying other activities.

Adults need to collaborate. When one of your players is involved in another sport or activity, meet with the other coach or director to iron out possible scheduling conflicts and find a workable compromise or solution. The key is to do what is best for the young person. Avoid creating a situation where the athlete is caught in a tug of war. There has to be give and take from both adult leaders.

Let the child choose. When there is an unavoidable conflict, allow the student-athlete to make a choice. Neither adult leader should try to influence the decision. Focus on what is best for the young person and be supportive of his or her choice.

Tutoring takes precedence. Always contact your athletes’ teachers to confirm tutoring sessions after school. Be sure to do this in a manner in which there is no perception of interference or applying pressure. You are only finding out if an athlete will be reporting a little later to practice and providing your full and total support.

Make-up tests. In addition to tutoring, it may be necessary for a player to take a make-up test at the end of the school day and before practice. This also needs to be confirmed and you must communicate with the athlete that this academic responsibility is the priority and has to be completed.

Have a system. At the beginning of the season, let your team know that any time a player needs to arrive late because of tutoring or taking a make-up test, he or she should simply stretch, warm up, and join the team. Never single out or comment on a player who shows up late to practice due to tutoring or taking a make-up test. Having a policy in place and not drawing attention to someone who comes in late underscores that school work routinely comes first.

Attend your players’ events. Show up and back your players when they take part in a school play or musical performance. While you are definitely busy, it is important to spend an hour or two in support of your athletes. Your appearance will mean more than a few words of encouragement—actions always speak louder than words.

While you may prefer to have all of your athletes attend every practice, the reality is that young people have many responsibilities. Always remember that the major objective is to support their overall growth and development, even when that means helping them find a way to take advantage of another valuable experience or ensuring that they are thriving in the classroom. By helping them develop the important skill of life balance, you are being the best coach you can be.

 

 

David Hoch retired in 2010 after a 41-year career as a high school athletic director and coach. In 2009, Dr. Hoch was honored as the Eastern District Athletic Director of the Year by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. He was also presented with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Distinguished Service Award, and in 2000 he was named the Maryland State Athletic Director Association’s Athletic Director of the Year. Dr. Hoch has authored over 460 professional articles and made more than 70 presentations around the country. He welcomes comments and questions and can be reached at: davidhochretad@gmail.com.

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