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  • Writer's pictureShaylan Ahearn

How to Balance the Student-Athlete Role

“Student-Athlete”. As straightforward as this title sounds, often it is still not entirely understood. Some people see us as purely athletes and others see us as simply students, neither assumption entirely wrong, nor even close to all encompassing. At times, fans, coaches, and endorsers get so focused on the athlete identity, that they tend to forget about the commitments we have outside of athletics. This leads to unrealistic expectations about the time we have available to train, recover, practice, etc. On the other hand, professors and bosses can become hyper focused on our student identity and struggle to consider our athlete role. In this situation the unrealistic expectations take the form of professors expecting us to have time to see them during set office hours, come to all of their classes, and use our time and energy studying class content. These unrealistic expectations stemming from people not considering a student-athlete’s social, academic, and athletic obligations often result in stress, anxiety, and being overwhelmed.

Having multiple roles as a student-athlete can make it feel like you are being pulled in one hundred different directions all at once. My freshman year I would ask myself, “How am I supposed to be an engaged student, elite athlete, responsible employee, and supportive friend at the same time?!” My muscles were sore, my brain was overstimulated, and I was emotionally exhausted. In fact, I still have times where I get this feeling as a senior in college! For me, the feeling of having too much on your plate (balancing school, sports, and social life) comes during the end of the spring semester. During this time, I am traveling for the championship tournaments, playing in the games, studying for finals, rescheduling work I miss, taking exams, and trying to figure out my summertime schedule. The first time I experienced a situation like this during sophomore year, I was absolutely overwhelmed. I spent most nights in my bed not being able to fall asleep because of the thoughts racing through my mind, it was awful! I knew that I needed to find a way to limit the stress I was feeling to better my mental health and physical performance both in the classroom and on the field.

I learned that balancing your social life, schoolwork, and sport is not easy, but it is doable. This balance will look different depending on the student athlete and their situation. Several factors like class load, season, time of year, travel, work schedule, relationship status, family status, health, etc. effect the approach you should take to maintain balance. It is important to know that balance does not mean equal, it means stable. Balance is finding the right amount of attention for each role depending on the situation you are in. Your balance could be different from one day to the next or from one week to the next and that is okay! The important part is that you take the time to assess your needs in the given moment and then follow that evaluation with necessary steps to get those needs met. Here are a few of my favorite ways to stay balanced in my student-athlete role…

  1. Look Ahead

Look Ahead. Take the time to create a schedule/planner at the start of each month, the start of each week, and/or the start of each day. This will keep you organized with your schoolwork due dates, exam dates, sports games, and social events. By using a planner, you notice interfering events and commitments weeks before they happen. Normally when you are that on top of things, problem-solving becomes a lot easier.

Tip #1: Color code your planner so that your school, social, and sport life are in different colors. This will make it easier to see when two aspects overlap.

2. Communicate Early.

Communicate Early. Once you have created your schedule, look to see what overlap you have between events or commitments. Address these overlapping issues early so you have time to figure out how you will manage to do both or change the timing for one. This communication can be done through an email or in person, but the earlier the better!

Tip #2: When communicating to professors and coaches try to do it through an email or text AND in person if possible. This shows you are putting in effort.

3. Stay Aware of your Feelings

Stay aware of your Feelings. This is an essential step in the balancing process. Take the time to step back from working, playing, and socializing to assess your own feelings and emotions. Ask yourself how you feel physically and mentally, and then define and label those feelings. Are you sluggish, cranky, on auto pilot mode, happy, energized, etc. Identify your feelings and emotions and act on them appropriately. Take a day off if you need a day off, watch a movie instead of going out, take a nap and do the homework assignment when you wake up. Get your body and mind re-centered and focused, and then work on your next task when you are ready.

Tip #3: Use a journal to stay aware of your feelings, emotions, and reactions to certain events and situations. Writing things down can be an easy and safe way to get your emotions and feelings out of your own head and onto paper. It can be a release and it can help you become more aware of things you did not know you felt whether they are positive or negative.

4. Ask for Help.

Ask for Help. If balancing school, sport, social, and all other aspects of your life gets too stressful and overwhelming to handle on your own, or you just want to gain a few skills and tools to help, do not be afraid to reach out for help. Getting another person’s perspective and/or a professional perspective can be super beneficial and eye opening. As athletes we tend to disregard the stress we feel so we show no weakness. We push off these mental hardships instead of investigating and working through them. Just like we train our bodies, we need to train our minds. We can use a sports psychologist, counselor, or therapist to coach us through mental training just as we use athletic trainers and sports coaches to guide us through our physical training.

Tip #4: Do not be afraid to reach out. Use services like Elite Performance Psychology to help guide you in building new mental skills and acquiring new tools to use. Go to our “Meet the Team” page to find out more about our mental skills coaches and the services they can provide.

Overall, know you always have other athletes in your corner supporting you.

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