Even Google doesn’t get it. No matter how I phrase it in the search bar, nothing evidential or empirical pops up with supporting data that being a good student will help an athlete become a better skier. Instead, Google spins it around and spits back a large body of articles, studies, and opinions on the many and varied benefits and positive impacts athletics has on academic and even career pursuits. Schools and companies like student athletes. On this perfunctory level of research, there is a dearth of quantitative (or any type) data showing school as a necessity to sport success. But we do know intrinsically and anecdotally (and repeatedly) that school can be a meaningful, valuable, and fundamental part of growing up into a productive, capable, and successful individual – and athlete.

The thoughts and words of U.S. Ski & Snowboard athletes, however, tell a different and compelling story about education, one in which school matters to their success, if not directly as Olympic skiers, then certainly as whole athletes and people. School is that other goal and important dream to many athletes; school helps athletes feel more balanced, capable, stimulated, focused, and whole. A rough or disappointing day on the slopes or in the gates (of which there are many) can be assuaged by a good grade or positive feedback on an assignment, exam, or course. Coaches tell us the athletes who are structured with some academic effort and responsibility are good at integrating and implementing instruction and have strong time management and organizational skills. And countless athletes are grateful for school as both redirected purpose and distraction when faced with the inevitable competition or season-ending injury. School is an excellent “Plan B” when sidelined unexpectedly or for an extended period of time. Finally, several athletes have shared that they enjoy the social aspects of school at points during the year or along the pathway of their careers. Meeting peers who have other interests and aptitudes can be refreshing and stimulating for athletes whose lives are structured and regimented around the seasons and cycles of skiing – and snow.

Former U.S. Ski Team athlete AJ Ginnis will be balancing school at Dartmouth College with his elite-level racing. Image Credit: U.S. Ski & Snowboard

These quotations below are the thoughts and words of various U.S. Ski & Snowboard athletes.

“This chance to get a degree while competing in skiing is giving me the chance to set myself up for a successful future, in and out of my sport.”

“Most of my time and energy goes toward the athletic side of things, but I am thankful to have the opportunity to pursue a business undergraduate degree in college. They have a great selection of online courses, and I have had the opportunity to explore my many options in the direction of my studies.”

“I believe that to be the best athlete I can be, I need to have a balance. Academics offers that for me. I can see the results of applying myself within the course of a semester. In sport, this nearly immediate gratification hardly exists. This winter I missed out on a lifelong dream of competing at the Winter Olympic Games, after a devastating crash at Olympic Trials resulting in a torn ACL and damaged meniscus. Having the outlet of school work to keep me active, while adjusting to the “couch life” definitely played a role in my recovery.”

“I’m a 2018 Winter Olympian and now U.S. Ski Team Alum. I’ve spent the past 5 years representing the team on the World Cup Circuit and have now transitioned to pursuing my education at the Eccles School of Business, a great spot to land.”

“I want to chase my dreams of being a professional skier as well as becoming a college graduate. School is just as important to me as is my skiing career. I want to complete both of these dreams.” 

“For much of my life, my goals in skiing were my number one priority, but I have always had academic goals as well.”

“Education is incredibly important to producing well-rounded skiers on and off the field of play. I have long believed this to be true, and I am glad to be able to pursue my educational goals while skiing and after skiing.  I am now narrowing in on my final semesters as an undergraduate student and looking forward to applying to master’s programs next summer. It’s been a long educational journey.”

“I appreciate the opportunity to pursue my degree in business while working toward my Olympic dream.”

With the qualitative case for school made, let’s consider the realities. Balancing school and skiing throughout the season is very difficult. As skiers rise in grade level and confront more rigorous classes, it is extremely tough to juggle school and skiing. Competitive skiers around the country can spend up to 200 days a year on snow. And even in the sunshine of summer, there is plenty of dryland and cross training to do. Dedicated, aspiring young ski racers (and parents) who reach a competitive and committed level must determine the best solution to the school quandary, to lead with school and skiing follows? Or lead with skiing and school follows? We have all heard the statistics of the high attrition rates at the U14 level, when the balance of school and sport becomes untenable for some. I personally have spoken with several elite level athletes within the past five years who have made a heart-wrenching decision, “I need to be a student now, and I don’t think I should ski any longer.”

With the right amount of drive, dedication, and determination, and a few best practices, it is definitely possible to integrate and balance school and skiing and be an excellent student athlete who achieves both on the slopes and in the classroom. The skills skiers develop on this pathway will invariably help them develop and mature as whole athletes and successful individuals.

Best Strategies for Balancing Sport and School

Implement and utilize these strategies and identify personal time-saving tips and techniques to succeed academically as well as athletically.

  • Get organized and stay organized. Use a big desk calendar or agenda for school and sports. Write down all due dates weekly, monthly and by term for schoolwork, projects, and papers. Write down all sports practices and games. Every week revisit your calendar and make corrections. Use Post-it Notes to list daily tasks – mark them off when complete.
  • Manage your time. With competing demands placed on your time, you must plan your “known time” schedule. Known times are school time, race or competition and practice time, and travel time to and from school, as well as travel time to and from sports practices and events. By blocking this known time on your calendar, you can determine your actual homework time, study time, and social or play time.
  • Plan your week; don’t let your week plan you. Look at your calendar and note when you have projects due, tests scheduled, and practices and games scheduled. Plan how you will study and when you will study.
  • Use your weekends wisely. Use your weekend as preparation time for the week ahead. Start homework for the upcoming week. Read chapters and take notes ahead of time. Use this time to plan for and prepare for projects and papers that are due.
  • Use your travel time to and from school, practices, and competitions wisely. Review notes, read chapters, study, or read books. Another tip – use audiobooks while traveling and read along. Annotate when you read so you can quickly review important facts and information.
  • DO NOT PROCRASTINATE. Do assignments as soon as they are given, rather than waiting until the last minute. Assuredly, poor planning and waiting until the last minute will result in missed practices or missed games.
  • Do not fall behind. Whether with homework, schoolwork, grades, or sports, it is easier to stay ahead of schoolwork rather than to play catch up with grades, missed assignments, or missed events.
  • Take advantage of study halls and free periods. Do homework, ask for help, study, and get ahead of your work. Take advantage of the study halls and free periods that can greatly aid student athletes in balancing school work and sports activities.
  • Utilize of school resources, such as tutors. Many sports teams want their athletes to succeed in school and offer programs to help their athletes. If your school or community offers these opportunities, take them.
  • Balancing time is a constant – this is the truth about succeeding as an elite student athlete!  Obligations and interests will continue to compete for your attention and commitment throughout your lives. By learning and implementing time-saving tips and techniques early in your student athlete career, you can achieve success in sport, in school, and in life!
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A lifelong educator, coach, and mentor in the classroom and on the field of play, Julie brings passion, grit, community, and fun to her athlete advocacy role as the Director of Athlete Career & Education (ACE) at U.S. Ski & Snowboard. Julie promotes whole athlete development to enhance athletic performance, increase sport longevity, support career development, and encourage long term association to U.S. Ski & Snowboard. Her fate as an educator was sealed in 1st grade, when she wrote “I love school!” on the chalkboard. She also loves skiing and has resided in Park City, Utah with her husband and three daughters since 1997.