During my time as a collegiate volleyball coach one of the most common questions I got from recruits’ parents was “Is it hard to balance athletics and academics?” My response was to ask if the student-athlete was currently struggling to balance athletics and academics. The answer was most often a hard “no“.

Scientifically, it has been proven over and over again that physical activity leads to an increase in academic performance, testing scores, and mental acuity. The Center for Disease Control published a report showing the correlation between physical activity and a number of positive outcomes, including self esteem, GPA, standardized testing scores, attentiveness, creativity and planning ability.

High school athletes are challenged with balancing competitive athletics, academics, and any other number of extracurricular activities, so why would college be any different? In fact, most student-athletes perform better academically during season than in the off-season. Why is that?

It’s simple. In-season student-athletes don’t have time to procrastinate. They are so used to being busy, on the go, on the way from school to practice or a tournament, that most have developed built-in scheduling techniques and time management skills that less involved students never need to develop.

If you’re a student-athlete juggling school, athletics and extracurriculars, here are 5 ways to successfully balance those demands:

1. Get Organized!
Invest in a planner that works for you, and some highlighters. Block out all of your classes, practice times, and other commitments, and then build in some scheduled time each day for studying! I’m a big fan of color-coding your schedule– blue for classes, red for volleyball, green for built-in studying time. This helps you plan ahead and prevent the “I’ll do that later” mentality.

2. Keep an open line of communication with your coaches and professors.
Coaches and professors are your biggest cheerleaders- they want you to succeed, and they want to provide you with the tools to succeed! Communicate early on with them about potential scheduling conflicts, and discuss working together to implement a system for keeping up with missed class notes and making up any missed labs or events.

3. Pick classes you are excited about.
Oftentimes, student athletes try to schedule their classes around their athletic schedule, but I ALWAYS tell my athletes to remember that they are a student first, and then an athlete. Even when looking at colleges, I advise everyone to choose schools that they would be happy with even if the volleyball program shut down tomorrow. It is way easier to prioritize academics when you are taking courses you are interested in. Don’t take a class you dread just because it fits in with your athletic schedule.

4. Study together!
Work together with other student-athletes to form study groups, set up scheduled time to study, and form a support network of people going through similar experiences as you are.

5. Don’t underestimate the power of a few minutes!
Do you spend 20 minutes before practice heating your shoulder? Bring flash cards! Just because you don’t have a three-hour block of time to study every day doesn’t mean you can’t find plenty of time throughout your day to squeeze in some studying.

Student-athletes have never been the kids to be able to come home right after school, watch tv, and wait a few hours before beginning their homework. They’re always the ones to get home late and sit down to begin homework. 

So next time you have parents asking you if they think collegiate athletics will impede their children’s academic performance, remind them to consider all the positive benefits that come with playing a sport!

For related reading for junior volleyball players click here. For information on the recruiting process click here.

About the Author

Chelsea Mottern is a former collegiate volleyball player and coach. She served as the Assistant Volleyball Coach at Kenyon College from 2011-2013, and has worked at competitive summer volleyball camps for various clubs and universities across the country. Prior to that, she played at Vassar College from 2007-2011, where she was the starting libero and graduated with a degree in political science. She went on to get her Master’s in Public Policy at the University of Southern California, and now serves as the Deputy Director of Grants at a Los Angeles-based non-profit.