Dear Coach Bryant:
My son is fortunate enough to be academically and athletically gifted. To be honest, he has always made excellent grades without much study, even as he played travel ball. But college is another matter. He’s considering a demanding major. And even though he still wants to play, his mother and I are concerned he might not be able to balance a full academic load with college ball.
Will he have time to study? Should we encourage him to pursue both dreams?
I think the best question for you and your wife to consider is whether you can afford for him NOT to pursue both dreams. A 2020 Gallup study found that college students who participated in athletics tended to fare better than non-athletes in their academic, personal and professional life during college and after graduation.
Why is that true? Here’s what I’ve observed throughout my decades of college coaching:
Student athletes have less time to waste.
Unlike the full day students spend in high school classes, college students only attend class a few hours a day. Some days they don’t attend any classes. Even if they spend many hours in study, they have many more hours of free time than they did in high school. That free-time surplus can be difficult to handle, especially for freshmen. Student athletes have the advantage of having something productive to do with their surplus time.
Student athletes have a built-in support system.
While student athletes can make friends via the typical venues – class, student housing, campus organizations – they have the distinct advantage of an automatic support system. From the moment they step onto campus they are part of a team, where they enjoy common interests and shared priorities.
Student athletes have accountability.
That built-in support system brings both positive peer pressure and a healthy dose of coaching oversight. Student athletes know others will notice if they prioritize partying over practice and study. Unlike other students, they will be confronted early in the semester if they’re not fulfilling their commitments.
Student athletes have life-long routines.
Students like your son have been playing sports all their lives. They are used to “having” to be somewhere at a certain time. They are used to exercising regularly. They are used to being part of something bigger than themselves. Removing such routines at a critical juncture of their lives, when everything is already new and foreign, can be much more disruptive to a student’s sense of self than any heightened pressure a student athlete might face in college-level competition.
Some high school athletes will play their college sport at the intramural level. Some will represent their school at a national level. Whatever route they take, these students are statistically more likely to succeed academically if they are also actively pursuing their sport. They are more likely to stay healthier, be more productive and feel good about themselves as true contributors to their team.
The key to such success for your son lies in finding a team that provides a positive environment in which he can pursue both his academic and athletic goals. Four years in, he’ll be ideally prepared to balance whatever life/work demands he might face in the future.
Best of luck!