The demands of being an elite athlete often mean that your education gets left behind. But those who can find the good balance between training and learning will discover that they can achieve their academic goals while still pursuing their sporting career.

And there are many benefits to be gained by successfully combining sport and education. For starters, studying enables you to develop and enhance your professional skills, meaning that you will be in a better position to launch a new career when you have to retire from competition. Having something else to focus on away from your training also helps provide perspective and balance to your life, while broadening your horizons beyond the sporting arena.

By following a few simple tips – such as managing your time, choosing the right school and exploring different learning opportunities – you will soon find that sport and education can be a winning combination.

Top tips

  • Find a school that fully supports your need to balance sport and education
  • Speak to other athletes who have successfully combined school and sport
  • Build a good relationship with your teacher, so that they understand your sporting commitments
  • Get organised by writing down your daily study and training schedule
  • Set learning goals and plan how you will achieve them – just like you would with your sport
  • Plan ahead so you can organise your commitments
  • Time is precious for athletes. Make the most of yours by overcoming procrastination
  • Keep on top of your studies when travelling to events and training camps
  • Explore flexible study options, including distance learning and online courses such as those on the Athlete365 learning

Balancing sport and education
Finding time to study while training and competing can be a difficult balancing act. But by planning ahead, making the most of your time and avoiding distractions, you will be able to focus on achieving both your sporting and academic ambitions.

There are essentially four key skills that successful student athletes need to master: time management, overcoming procrastination, active study skills and how to study while travelling. These are all covered in the IOC Athlete Career Programme.

Managing your time effectively is particularly important, but simple things like writing a to-do list and prioritising certain commitments can enable you to take control. Because your time is precious, you will also need to avoid distractions or procrastination when you should be studying. Things like surfing the web, social media and phone calls can all wait until you’ve finished that assignment!

How to make the most of your time

  • Write a to-do list
  • Set yourself clear goals
  • Prioritise your tasks
  • Tackle the hardest tasks first
  • Know what your commitments are and draw up a timetable
  • Keep organised so you can stay on top of your tasks
  • Try to get an early start on what you have to do

“I found studying to be quite therapeutic, in a way, and it was nice to just go and pick it up in the downtime between training sessions. When you’re on training camps for two thirds of the year, the TV box sets get exhausted quite quickly, so it was nice to take your mind off all the intense training and have something else to focus on, rather than just rowing.”

Marcus Bateman, world championship silver medallist, rowing

Choosing the right school
The key to successfully combining education with an elite sporting career is finding a school that will support you to pursue both paths.

Many universities and colleges allow student athletes to plan their academic requirements around their sporting commitments, meaning you can maintain a healthy balance, so it’s important to do some research and find somewhere that will best meet your needs.

Your training and competitions can take up a lot of your time, so look at the specific programme or course that you will be following and find out how flexible it is with timetables, class work and assignments. Then, find out as much as you can about the school’s facilities. If you’re able to train on campus, for example, it will mean you don’t lose valuable time travelling to and from another venue.

Once you’re studying, it’s also very important to build a good relationship with your school and let your teachers and tutors know all about your athletic commitments ahead of time so that they can offer you support when you need it most.

“There’s a vital trio in the sport-education setting – you, your performance lead, and your course director. It is so important to get both to understand about the other activity, and that one activity can actually benefit the other. Choosing the right course and university can help. But building these relationships and communicating early and effectively can make all the difference in balancing sport and education.”

Adam Pengilly, two-time Olympian, skeleton

Education Opportunities
There are many different ways for you to continue your studies while competing and by considering all the available options you will be able to find an approach that suits you best.

For instance, if you have limited time due to training commitments, you may be able to complete your course over an extended period of time. And if you have to travel a lot for competitions, meaning it is difficult to attend classes, you may be able to find an online course or distance education programme that you’re able to follow while you’re on the road. The Athlete Learning Gateway, for example, offers short online courses that are easily accessed wherever you are.

You may also find that studying abroad is the best option for you. Heading overseas may seem daunting, but it might mean you’re able to increase your sporting opportunities and develop further as an athlete, while gaining a top-class education.

What is the Athlete365/Learning?

  • Offers short online courses that are available anytime, anywhere, completely free of charge
  • Provides an innovative way for elite athletes to study while training and competing
  • The courses cover key subjects such as nutrition, psychology, injury prevention, sponsorship and sports media
  • Courses feature insights from Olympic champions and other experts

Visit olympic.org/athlete365/learning to find out more