Tips for Football Student-athletes

At the high school level, football transitions from a simple ‘game’ to a more serious athletic competition that directly affects players’ overall quality of life. Training sessions and practices become much more intense, and games are approached with the same ferocity that is usually reserved for war. With that transition often comes a new-found respect for the game. However, there’s often another, less beneficial result of this transition: life outside of football suddenly becomes much less important, which can have an especially negative impact on the player’s success as a student. Here’s a list of tips that student-athletes can use to help balance out their school demands with their commitment to football.

Remember, It’s Still a Game

The pressure to be successful in football at the high school level is something most players anticipate. However, it’s one thing to know something like that is coming and another to actually have to deal with it. That pressure provides a wake-up call for potential players in two ways:

  1. It gives players a realistic idea about what’s involved in committing to play football at this level.
  2. It provides a very clear indication that players are expected to take the game more seriously than they had in the past.

Although it’s occasionally perceived negatively by players who don’t expect it, or parents who don’t fully understand its purpose, that pressure isn’t an inherently bad thing. However, it’s far more important to realize that there’s no binding contract forcing players to continue playing football; if that pressure takes away from the enjoyment of the game, there’s no reason to keep playing. Football is a game first and foremost, and games are supposed to be fun.

Set a Schedule & Stick to It

One of the first things players notice in the transition to football at the high school level is the dramatic increase in the amount of time it takes to be involved with the game. This is indicative of life in high school overall; more time, more commitments, more responsibility. Add to the mix any existing obligations outside of school — chores at home, relationships, part-time jobs — and time suddenly becomes a precious commodity.

The easiest way to deal with multiple obligations is to create a schedule for yourself. A schedule is the best way to manage your time and ensure that all your different responsibilities are being satisfied. There are several things to keep in mind when creating a time-management schedule for yourself:

  1. Write out your schedule a week at a time: Because your obligations likely won’t change much from week to week, a seven day schedule will provide you with an accurate assessment of how much time gets devoted to different activities.
  2. Prioritize your various obligations: Figure out how much time you’re spending on each of your obligations. Some happen on a fixed time table that’s outside your control, while others only happen on your personal time. Understand which are most important, and make sure enough time is devoted to these activities.
  3. Stay flexible (slightly): New obligations will regularly pop up; some will be a one-time thing, while others are multiple occurrences. From team meetings to school projects, these unplanned obligations can put added strain on an already busy schedule. That being said, if a new activity isn’t mandatory, don’t be afraid to say no. Going with a group of friends to a movie instead of studying may seem appealing, but maintaining good grades should be a more important goal than catching the latest action flick. Smart decisions aren’t always the most fun to make, but they are the most beneficial in the long run.

Once you make a schedule, make a personal commitment to abide by it. Sticking to a schedule may seem tough at first, but once it becomes your normal routine, the benefits will far outweigh the difficulties.

Understand that School Comes First

There’s a reason the term ‘student-athlete’ exists. While the pressure you may feel predominantly relates to football, it’s vital to understand that without success in school, you won’t be able to play.

The various governing associations across the country all have a minimum GPA that student-athletes must meet in order to be allowed to play high school sports, football included. Also, don’t be surprised if your parents require you to put football on hold if it becomes too difficult to balance playing with school.

Though many players prefer the field to the classroom, the reality is that playing football is a privilege, not a guaranteed right. There are several things you can do to make sure your schoolwork gets ample attention:

  1. Make it a priority on your schedule: Obviously you’re required to be in school for several hours during the day, but rarely will you have enough time to get all of your schoolwork done during normal school hours. Be sure to block off enough time every day to get your homework and studying done.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help: Having trouble in a particular area? Get help sooner rather than later. Sometimes there is an unfortunate stigma associated with asking for help; some people see it as a sign of weakness, and in a sport like football where toughness and individual success are such valued qualities, the ‘help equals weakness’ stigma occasionally gets amplified. That simply isn’t true. Asking for help on your schoolwork is no different than asking a teammate to give an opposing player a chip block – It’s a slight boost that will make it easier for you to do your job.

Getting good grades directly affects your opportunity to play. Love football but hate school? Unfortunately, you’re not alone, but that doesn’t change the fact that you cannot have one without the other. Playing football is only an option when school comes first.

Hot Tip: Getting Help

Most teachers are more than willing to help their students succeed in school, although the rigid demands of a football schedule frequently limit when student-athletes and teachers can meet. Still, it never hurts to ask a teacher about getting help on a particular subject. Even a half-hour during lunch or before school is better than nothing at all.

Most school districts also have a list of tutors on hand. Tutors generally have greater availability, as they frequently work specifically when school isn’t in session. And some tutors even work for free, getting paid by the school district or obtaining college credit in return for their services.

Walking a Fine Line

The task of juggling school and football can seem like an overwhelming task at first. Take the difficulty of that job as another sign of the commitment required to play the game at a higher level. Remember: it can be done, and the longer you do it, the easier it becomes.

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