During parent/teacher conferences this week, I noticed a pattern with my students and their families. I have a lot of students that are also athletes. Many of these are also the top performing students. You’ve probably noticed similar patterns. The question is, “Why?” I asked the same questions to each student that came in with their parents.
- What are the things you are doing that are allowing you to do well in school?
- What do you think you could do differently in order to improve your performance?
- When do you do your school work?
I also asked them other questions like, “What could I do differently to help you and others learn more in my class?” The question that had the strongest correlation to student performance was the third. Students who said they did their school work every day immediately after school (or within an hour of getting home) had the highest grades in my class. Students who waited until later in the evening to begin their work either had lower grades or less engagement and comprehension in my class.
This held true for my athletes. The difference with athletes is that they have less time available and are often warn out physically when the get home. How do they still get everything done and do well in school? I have decided there are two types of athletes in school.
First, there is the athlete that says, “I’m an athlete. I don’t have enough time to do everything I want, so I need to be very careful about how I spend my time. I need to be self-disciplined. I need to work hard on and off the court. I need to try hard even when I am not at my peak performance. I will fall down, but I will not give up.”
Second is the athlete that says, “I’m an athlete. I don’t have enough time to do everything I want, so I am going to do what I enjoy and ignore the things that are not as fun. I don’t need good grades in order to be a good basketball player. Besides, how can my teachers expect me to get my homework done when I’m busy practicing sports? That’s a good excuse for not doing well in school.”
Anecdotal evidence shows that the best athletes on the court also tend to be the best students in the class. I would argue that this is not a causal relationship. Instead, both are caused by something else: their character and habits.
Athletics and academics both require the same character traits and habits: hard work, determination, self-discipline, motivation, time management, goals, creative problem solving, endless practice of skills (think free throws and math concepts), recognizing that their good performance comes from practice rather than born talent. While some athletes have honed these skills and done well on and off the court, others think they can succeed without putting in the work.
Athletes need to recognize that the same skills required to be a good athlete transfer over to the classroom.