Balancing Academics and Athletics


By Riley Kuffner

Academics and Athletics


Athletics and academics play an important role in defining the student body, as over 50 percent of Tam students participate in a sport after school. Both take up a lot of time and, in students’ busy lives, there is not a lot of time to spare. For this reason, athletics and academics are often perceived as enemies, opposites, conflicting interests. But is this true? While some claim that athletics hurt academic performance by taking away time that could be spent doing schoolwork, others argue sports provide motivation and confidence that lead to academic success.

Junior water polo player Madeline Hess cites athletics as a driving force for focus on schoolwork. “Sports absolutely help me in school,” she said. “Even though I get home late, I know that I have no time to procrastinate and am more focused on my homework. I’m actually more proficient than in the off season.”

Freshman tennis player Dash Yarnold agreed. “If I don’t have a sport then I’ll just put homework off and hang with friends,” he said. “When it’s all said and done, I may have even less time than if I went to tennis practice.”
Still, juggling an athletic activity with academics can be stressful. According to the Franklin Institute, stress has both good and bad impacts on students’ everyday lives. The release of some chemicals can be beneficial. The release of adrenaline for example, enables in the brain more efficent work and higher brain function for a short period of time. Although stress may enable a student-athlete to cram in a final paper, it has many negative effects after the fact. Other hormones released due to stress temporarily stunt growth, put the immune system on hold and reduce the blood flow to skin. Not only do high achieving students feel pressure to maintain their academic quality, they must work to maintain eligibility, with a 2.0 GPA requirement for all Tam athletes.

Even though athletics can cause stress by leaving little time for school work, they are also capable of relieving it. “Sports are totally different from school, which is viewed as the major stressor,” freshman basketball player Noel Rose said. “There is a lot more freedom and [they] are just a lot of fun. It helps get your mind off that huge homework assignment.”
Motivation to achieve academically while playing a sport is intentionally integrated into the athletic programs. The Scholar Athlete Award is given to high achieving student athletes with a GPA above 3.7. The idea is that students who meet those parameters in the offseason are motivated to keep up their work, and ones that do not are motivated to improve in order to get special recognition. The minimum 2.0 GPA requirement also motivates student athletes to do well in the classroom.

“When students are more motivated they’re going to put more work in and do better in school,” junior football player Kieran Strachan said. Some teams actually set aside time to ensure that their athletes are keeping up on their academics. Every Wednesday for example, the freshman football team holds a homework session in the library.

Other programs, like softball, regularly check the progress of student athletes in order to hold them responsible for their academics. This knowledge allows coaches to get their players help in school if necessary. “My players are students first and athletes second,” P.E. teacher and softball coach Erin Lawley said. “By regularly checking in with players through progress reports, I think, sports teach responsibility and organization, which lead to better academic achievement.”
“College prospects also motivate kids,” junior football player Devin Burch said. “If someone wants to play a sport in college, then they know they need a good GPA to back that up.”

On top of the motivation provided by colleges, students are also aware of the brain chemistry that goes into academics after athletics. “Athletic activity results in the production of endorphins in the brain,” Strachan said. “The chemical process makes you feel self-confident, [and] self-confidence helps in school.”

In 2008, a group of German researchers led by Dr. Henning Boecker showed that exercise resulted in a “runner’s high” as a result of endorphin production. Their studies proved that endorphins caused a decrease in pain perception, an increased sense of well-being and a positive mood change. It is thought that these processes are a result of human’s early, hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Their studies support Strachan’s claim and show that athletics actually warm up the brain for academics. This sense of well-being and positive mood can be beneficial for student-athlete academic achievement.

“I just feel happier when I’m playing a sport,” sophomore soccer player Kendall Islam said. “This leads me to be more motivated and do better in school.”