Juggling youth sports and school, while maintaining good grades, is a challenge equal to any sports competition your child faces.
But it can be done, whether your athlete is an A, C, or struggling-not-to-be-a-D student. With your help, your child can be a winner on the field and court, and in the classroom.
1. Teach your child about time management. Show him how to calendar his assignments, his practices,his games, and his responsibilities around the house. He can fill in the blanks with free-time and socializing. Not only will this help him remember his appointments, it will free him to enjoy his spare time and it will free you from nagging him about getting stuff done.
2. Talk about family priorities. Youth sports seem to be on a very high pedestal these days. It overshadows a lot of things that really should not be minimized. I think it’s a good idea to have a conversation as a family about what your family’s priorities should be. Keep a list on the fridge as a reminder. This does not mean that your child can skip practice whenever he wants to, it means that he says no to things that are not high on the list, so that he can attend to the priorities. Hopefully, academics is high on that list.
3. Sometimes, you have to let things slide. When it’s finals week, when there’s a paper due–and your child is in a tournament or busy with games and practices–it’s okay to let some things slide. The world won’t end if your child doesn’t make his bed, finish his laundry, or put every dish in the sink during a hectic week. Tell your child you see that it’s a crazy week and you’re willing to let things slide this week, but it’s a temporary reprieve.
4. Set a schedule. Try setting a schedule for academics. Be realistic about how much time your child should dedicate to studies and then set aside that time. Often a study schedule that is repeated at the same time every day, similar to practice, will establish good habits. Maybe it’s right after school and before practice, or right after dinner. Whenever it is, stick to it as much as possible. As your kids get older, if they’ve established good study habits, they will do this on their own.
5. Hold your kids accountable. Many schools have online programs where parents can check their child’s grades and work. I used to check it weekly to see how things were going and often asked questions about missing assignments or low grades. Eventually, my kids started checking it themselves without me having to. Just knowing that I was keeping them accountable kept them on top of things. If your school doesn’t do that, then make it your business to check in with the teacher every now and then to see how your child is doing. Don’t assume that no news is good news.
6. Help your child set goals. Don’t expect your child to go from a C- to an A+ overnight. Have them set goals that they can achieve, such as getting a B on their next test or making sure that all their homework is turned in on time. As your child is able to set goals and meet them, they’ll have more confidence in their ability to achieve good grades.
7. Use sports as an incentive. Instead of seeing sports as the enemy of your child’s academics, use it as an incentive to work hard in the classroom. Of course, if your child does not meet the school’s grade policy for playing sports, then they will suffer the consequences. You can be content with that, or you can set your own standard. If you cannot keep your grades up this spring, you cannot play sports next fall.
We told our senior in high school, who wanted to do track and play club volleyball simultaneously that if her grades suffered, she would have to give one of them up. That was all the motivation she needed to keep studying.
8. It’s okay to reward good grades. Whether it’s for a good grade on a test or a good report card, rewards help your child stay motivated to work hard and feel good about their accomplishment. We tried different motivations, from paying for As and Bs on a report card to a spontaneous shopping trip or dinner out for an aced test. Keep your kids guessing!
9. Encourage effort, not just results. In sports, it’s good to encourage kids’ efforts, not just their performance. Same goes for academics. I often saw my kids bust their butts studying for a test only to get a B- or a C. But I knew they’d done their best and that was more important to us than scoring a high grade. My dad used to look me in the eyes and say, “Did you do your best?” With him staring at me, I couldn’t lie! When I said, “yes,” he’d say, “that’s all I need to know.”
Help your kids learn the balance of school and youth sports. It’s good training for learning to balance bigger things later on in life, like family and work, or marriage and kids. Juggling is a life skill we all must learn.