It can be hard to find balance as a student and as an athlete. In the last month, I have had more meetings with students on weeknights (as late as 9 pm in some cases) and weekends. This is because the student simply has no other time to squeeze in a session with me. Teens share with me often they feel stressed and anxious most of the time with more asked of them on a daily basis. I confess, I may be part of the problem as I often talk about students needing to take rigorous classes. We also talk about adding activities to bulk up their resumes. As well as of course, continuing to work on their fitness, strength, so on and so forth.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this newsletter, a recent heart to heart with a student really made me sit back. Sit back and think about ensuring that my message of “doing more” wasn’t at the expense of doing harm to a student. So to that end, I came up with a few things I think students and parents should discuss as a family. Then come up with a BALANCED plan:
How much sleep are you getting?
This is a good question to start with. The student athlete above was getting approximately 6 hours of sleep a night. Definitely not enough for a growing teenager. The National Sleep Foundation notes that adolescents should be getting anywhere from 8-10 hours a night. Over time, the cumulative effects of not getting enough sleep can be extremely detrimental not only to your physical well-being (how well will you perform in training or in a game if you’re tired and drowsy?) as well as your mental health (how can you focus on studying, tests, writing essays?).
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How to Find Balance as a Student Athlete
Shift away from screens at least 30 min to 60 min before bedtime. Even if you aren’t tired, try to read a magazine or journal – just don’t look at a phone, tablet or TV before bed. Your brain can be tricked into staying up later by the light in these screens which will lead to less restful sleep.
Keep to a schedule to find balance as a student athlete. Have a set bedtime and wake time every day. I know it is tempting to stay up late on the weekends and sleep in, however, this will only go to mess up your routine more during the week.
Limit your caffeine intake during the day, nothing past 2p in the afternoon.
How many sports /activities to participate in as a Student Athlete?
Often my students are feeling especially harried because they are playing 2, 3 sometimes even 4 sports. This is on top of jobs, community service and more! At a certain point, you have to learn to pick only the activities you really want to focus on. This is especially true if the time commitment is affecting your school work. I typically ask students to pick the things they are MOST passionate about. Leaving a sport or activity won’t look like a “failure”. It will be looked at as prioritizing your time. This is a skill you will need in college. I promise you!
I brought this up with a student athlete recently. She felt so pulled by all of her coaches, she finally decided to walk away from a sport she had been doing “her whole life”. She realized that she had only been staying in it out of habit, not because she enjoyed it. By saying no to one thing, she was then able to say yes to an activity she longed to do, but never had time for (joining a local yoga class).
From a college perspective, it would be looked at better for a student to only be in a few activities he was deeply and passionately involved in vs a lot of activities that he really had no interest in. Write down all of your current activities and rank them from most important to least important. Could you take 1 or 2 activities off the list?
How much stress are you experiencing on a daily basis?
It is normal to feel some stress sometimes. What is NOT normal is to feel stressed all day, every day. Take a minute right now and take stock of how you are feeling. Is your mind racing? Are you nervous about something coming up? Or are you running over something that happened a couple days ago? Try this simple exercise to ground yourself in the moment and bring you back to the present. I find that when I am also feeling out of control, this 30 second exercise helps me feel much calmer and more focused.
What are 5 things you see?
How about 4 things you hear?
What are 3 things you smell?
How about 2 things you feel?
What is 1 thing you taste?
If you find that the anxiety really is affecting more aspects of your life (your sleep, your eating, your mood, you’re always sick), it may be time to see a doctor. You might first start with your pediatrician or family doctor. This is to rule out an illness. You can also speak with your school counselor. See what resources you may have in your community to help with stress.