This is the life of a school athlete – eat, sleep, train, crash. You try to get schoolwork done when you can, and you only wish you had enough time for a life beyond that. The thing is, this kind of pattern takes its toll on both your physical and emotional health, and can leave you in a state in which you simply can’t succeed.
Does any of this sound familiar?
So how can you make it work? How can you balance the regular demands of school and daily life with the additional demands of athletic training and competition schedules?
Students tend to sacrifice sleep to make it all work when sleep may actually be the most important thing to keep when trying to balance a heavy workload ~ High school athlete
Many high-school athletes share a common attitude towards sleep: The less I sleep, the more time I will have to get all of my work done. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers need 9.25 hours of sleep every night to be fully functional. Unlike your contemporaries; however, who would put in a good 10-12 hours of sleep if left to their own devices, school athletes who are burning the candle at both ends often get significantly less sleep than that.
This lack of sleep compromises your ability to learn, listen, and problem solve. Besides that, it also makes you more prone to pimples, weight gain and illness. When you don’t get enough sleep your ability to perform well at practice and at “go” time will inevitably drop. Because of this you’ll get frustrated and angry with yourself, possibly lose even more sleep due to the resulting stress, and likely feel the need to train even harder or longer. This becomes a self-destructive cycle that can be hard to break. So be sure to make the time for quality, uninterrupted sleep – it is foundational to your success.
Take little breaks to just sit and listen to relaxing songs like Jack Johnson ~ High school athlete
Be realistic about the various demands on your time, and make sure to include restorative downtime in your daily schedule (in addition to sleeping hours). Sure, keep your commitments to practice time, training time, and school/homework time, but it’s just as important to take some time to yourself in which to just sit… think… relax… listen to music… grab a coffee with friends… live in the moment. These activities help to refocus your mind away from stresses, allow you the time you need to recharge your battery, and feel less like a rat in a maze.
Communicate with everyone one around you. When people know what’s going on it is a lot easier to help someone and it will lift some stress ~ High school athlete
Nobody can do it alone, no matter how tough they think they are. The best athletes surround themselves with positive, supportive, and inspirational people. As much as you may feel life is all about reaching your goals, the true essence of life is rooted in relationship. We are relational beings who have evolved to live communally. We need each other. Create and foster relationships with people who you can turn to in times of stress. Teammates can be excellent support for each other because of shared experiences.
Never lose sight of why you do it ~ High school athlete
You may at times find yourself thinking things like, “Any sacrifice will be worth it if I get that scholarship”, or “nothing is more important than winning this next match!” It’s fine to entertain these ambitions, but when thoughts like these become all-consuming, you may find yourself suffering from far more stress than you need to be. Do your best to remain focused on the big picture, and devote less energy to things that are ultimately beyond your control. Focus on improving your personal time rather than on basing your success or failure on your next win (or loss). Aim to master a technique rather than placing all of your hopes on an award. Absorb what you can from your athletic experiences and look at how you can translate these skills and experiences into the future.
A great way to gain some perspective is to read about or listen to other athletes’ stories. It’s amazing what hoops others have jumped through, what challenges they’ve faced, and where life has taken them. You might find a little bit of direction for yourself!
It is possible to do well at school, have a life and succeed at your sport – you just need a healthy balance of performance, rest, recuperation, support, and perspective. If you’re having trouble in any of these areas, your coach, school guidance counsellor, or your Employee and Family Assistance Program is there to help 24/7/365. Just call 1 866 833-7690 or visit workhealthlife.com
Caroline is in her first year of the International Baccalaureate program in Switzerland. As the president of the charity committee at school, she works on educational projects with a global reach, while helping to spread awareness of mental health in her own community. This past summer, Caroline worked at CAMH where she co-authored a paper on the family situation and its effect on adolescent depression. She hopes to go on to study neuroscience in university.