Student-Athlete Stress Points to Policy Change

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Danielle Brennan, Editorials Editor

Trudging to a 6 a.m. practice or back from a 7 p.m. overtime game on a weekday can surely feel more draining knowing hours of schoolwork will follow. The Independent School League (ISL) prides itself on its student-athletes, who put in blood, sweat, and tears to succeed in the classroom as well as on the field.

But do the ISL schools’ culture around athletics–specifically, our school’s culture–match the expectations with due respect, understanding, and accommodation as necessary? Considering all the emphasis placed on sports requirements and the importance of athletics, there are steps the school can take to better support student-athletes at the Upper School (US).

One blatant manifestation of the student-athlete’s strange double standard is the conflict that comes with early Wednesday games or other athletic-related departures. Students are expected to commit to their team, but also prioritize their schoolwork.

Missing a few hours of school to travel to St. George’s might sound like a fun excursion to some, but the academic blowback can feel like it causes more brain damage than a hard tackle. Especially for varsity players–who miss more school for away games, have more intense practices and expectations, and most definitely can’t skip a game to stay for a test–keeping up with schoolwork becomes increasingly difficult. Those varsity players often are part of a club team, too, which might have another practice even after their school team’s practice.

Ask a friend on a varsity team if they think their grades would be better or their work would be easier if they didn’t play their sport; the answer will almost undoubtedly be yes. And although some junior varsity teams are more lenient, others still devour massive chunks of players’ days.

Some teachers double as coaches and better understand the two-fold responsibilities that student-athletes bear. Teacher-coaches
are also often more mindful of how athletics impacts students’ work time. A big tournament this weekend? Multiple students in a class participating? A teacher who is more mindful of athletics might check with the class and think intentionally about when they place a certain test. Other teachers might not be that flexible. Inconsistency on a class-by-class basis makes navigating scheduling conflicts difficult and adds to a student-athlete’s stress.

Expectations to succeed academically as well as athletically over-stretch student-athletes differently than a similarly stressful curricular and extracurricular workload. The academic challenges that come with athletic commitment–whether it be from a requirement or not–make time management harder, leave less time to study or invest in extracurriculars. Since US students place emphasis on leadership roles and rigorous course loads, this creates stress and conflicts. With a primarily academic culture, it’s no wonder we have accommodations for the difficulties that come with it: peer tutors, peer counselors, built-in office hours, workspaces dedicated to quiet study. It is essential to view student-athletes with respect for their talents and commitments in the same way we do successful students; both represent our community and bring us pride.

Thinking this way will create a more open-minded community, an environment which understands the conflicts and challenges with which student-athletes grapple. Just as an emphasis on academics led to opportunities and outlets for stressed-out students, an appreciation for student-athletes will in time help create tools to alleviate the unique conflicts and pressures they face.

The first step can be improved communication between athletics and teachers. Currently, an email about an important game comes from a coach, student, or other athletic faculty member. Unfortunately, it might not come until the night before or that day. Because of this, a teacher might not be able to plan to accommodate the students who are required to attend. We can improve communication by outlining a specific process for students and faculty to follow in the event of an overlap. The US has a policy that prohibits any three major assessments or papers being due on the same day. The time crunch and stress of three major assessments on one day is equivalent to the stress of having a game the day before two of them. If you have a game the day before two assessments, then you should be able to work with the respective teacher to push off one of the assessments, at no penalty. Faculty can work together within departments or as group to further standardize the process for pushing off a test; they can decide on the maximum number of days a student can delay for a game or other criteria they think makes this policy suited to their schedules, too. If the US chooses to adopt this policy, it will help alleviate the extra stress that falls on athletes.