The Ultimate Balancing Act: Youth Athletics and Academics

In Culture, Leadership by Kyle Elmendorf

What would the teenage version of yourself think of you today? How do you view teenagers as an adult now? When removed from the experience it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be a teenager. It was hard then for you, and it’s hard for them now. Somehow though, as we age we tend to forget about what it’s really like to be a teen, especially those with a full schedule. Teenagers must balance homework, tests, chores, parents, friends, work, practices, games, instagram, netflix, and snapchat. Yeah, that’s a lot.

How do you find time for it all? This is life and dilemma for today’s high school athlete. More than ever, the life and schedule for student-athletes is full. It’s tough to fit all this into a schedule and do well. How do they do it?

Here are eight tips and suggestions for becoming a successful student-athlete:

  1. Organize and Manage Time Well

With all that is going on it’s nearly impossible to excel in the classroom and on the court if you’re not able to manage your time. Using the calendar that’s on your phone is the smart, practical, and efficient way to manage your time. Sure, you can write stuff down in your planner, but how realistic is that in today’s technological age. The goal should be to plan your week before your week plans you. Using online folders to organize your work is an excellent way to keep track of all that’s due. Simply taking the time to put what’s due and where you have to be in your calendar is a big first step. Once you create an organizational system that works for you, the rest will fall into place.

  1.  Use Your Travel Time

As an athlete most of your “down” time is travel time. So, why not use it productively? Whether it’s waiting to leave for a game, going to practice, or going home you can use the time to get quite a bit accomplished. I know it’s difficult to do, but think of all the time you’ll save for when you’re at home. Knocking out homework assignments, emailing teachers, and checking grades can all be done while traveling. Instead of being bombarded with a never ending list of things to do at home, make your life easier and knock some of it out while traveling.

  1. Take a Study Hall

Taking a study hall is a great way to keep school at school. If you use your time wisely in study hall, you will have more focused energy for your sport. Instead of scrolling through Instagram or playing video games, get your homework and projects done in lab. If you do, you can go home after your practice or game and relax. However, if you don’t take advantage of your time in study hall, you will be more stressed and feel overwhelmed. And when you feel this way your performance on the field suffers.

  1. Ask For Help

Too often asking for help is seen as a sign of weakness, but there’s no shame in asking for it when it’s needed. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, talk to your teachers, coaches, parents, and guidance counselors. Realize the adults in your life want you to do well and succeed in what you do. Their jobs are to help you succeed, and they’ll be more than happy to help. It’s also wise to ask for guidance and help from your peers. Don’t try to take everything on at once all by yourself. Have the courage to seek help when you need it.

  1. Embrace the Challenge

Being a student-athlete is a challenge, but it’s also a privilege. It’s not easy, but don’t back down from the challenge. No excuses, no explanations, just get the job done. It will be hard but it will more than be worth it. By taking on this challenge you will gain so many more life lessons and experiences over those who aren’t athletes. These lessons will prove to be invaluable as you enter the workforce. Companies and business leaders are always looking to hire former athletes, because they know they’ll be prepared. Remember, the challenge isn’t for everyone; it’s for you. Embrace it, overcome it, and succeed because of it.

  1. Acknowledge Your Efforts

It’s not always easy or natural to feel proud. Acknowledging yourself for the talents you possess and accomplishments you achieve is actually quite difficult. Humans have this weird ability to engage in negative self-talk more than positive self-talk. However, the most successful people know how important it is to acknowledge your own efforts. It’s not being conceited; it’s actually practicing gratitude. Although being a student-athlete is a great undertaking, be grateful you can do it. Many are not so lucky, and they’d love to trade spots with you. You were born with the talents and abilities to excel as a student and athlete. What an awesome blessing! So, when you’re feeling down, overworked, tired, and stressed, remember how lucky you are to be you and do what you do.

  1. Give Yourself a Break

While it’s true you need to grind and give it your all, you also need a break. No one can go 24/7 all the time. It’s extremely important to give yourself a break from time to time. A little recharge will help you maintain the high level of focus and effort needed. Whether it’s taking a nap, watching your favorite show, hanging out with friend, or just sitting and doing nothing; do it. Burnout is a real problem for student-athletes. By taking the time to mentally and physically recharge you will reduce the likelihood of burnout setting in, while increasing your optimal level of performance.  

  1. Realize the Benefits

When you’re in the moment, the moment seems to last a lifetime. However, it’s gone before you know it. And once it’s gone, you’ll wish you could have it back. Being a student-athlete will be one of the most fun times you’ll have. Enjoy the ride and love every part of it. Love your teachers, classmates, coaches, and teammates. It may not seem like it now, but you’ll miss them when it’s over.

About the Author
Kyle Elmendorf

Kyle Elmendorf

Kyle Elmendorf is an educator, coach, speaker, and writer. He currently resides near St. Louis and is the proud father to two young sons, and the loving husband to his beautiful wife, Angela. Coach Elmendorf also serves as the director of business development for Lead 'Em Up (, a company who's drills and excersises help build the leaders needed to win. His passion lies in building champions on and off the playing field. Sports are a vehicle to teach life lessons and build leadership skills, but only if done so intentionally. Coach Elmendorf has made it his life's mission to build character and leadership through sport in order to build a better future for our world. Oustide of his career, Coach Elmendorf loves to travel, be active outdoors, read, and spend time with his family. He writes a regular blog which can be found at and his articles have been featured in NFHS Coaching Today, The 9s Magazine, Ignite Magazine, and High School Today.


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