Sport and education are a winning combination

Successfully balancing your sporting career with studying can help make you a winner – both on and off the field of play. Here, two experts in the field – Megan Fritsch, Personal Excellence Manager at the Australian Institute of Sport, and Professor Ian Henry, Director of the Centre for Olympic Studies and Research at Loughborough University in the UK – explain why balancing the two will give you the upper hand.

  • It’s possible to pursue your academic goals alongside your competition
  • Combining sport and study can improve your performance on the field as well as off it
  • Give yourself a head-start in your post-sport career, just like rower James Tomkins

Being an elite athlete doesn’t mean you need to neglect your education. While the demands of training, travelling and competing can be tough, it is possible to successfully balance your sport and your studies. Those athletes who do find a way to pursue their academic goals alongside their sporting career will find that there are many benefits to be gained, according to Megan Fritsch.

“There is an evolving international trend that student-athletes who are able to balance their training with education seem to be very successful at an Olympic level,” she explains. “The combination of study and sport seems to be positive and essential to the overall holistic development of an athlete. It enables them to have more balance in their lives and foster relationships away from sport.”

Studying can bring perspective to your training

Being able to focus your efforts on something away from your training – such as studying – will help provide perspective and enable you to better cope with sporting setbacks, according to Professor Ian Henry.

“For some elite athletes, there is a need to focus on other aspects of life rather than solely on their sport,” he explains. “This helps them to put their training and performance into perspective, allowing them to deal more effectively with the challenges of sport, including setbacks and injury.”

Studies have found that combining athlete and student careers can help refine and develop transferable skills that are vital in both the academic and sporting arenas, such as planning and goal setting, teamwork, interpersonal skills, commitment, leadership and the ability to prioritise.

Studying can actually improve your sporting performance

Rather than being a stressful experience, pursuing your education alongside an athletic career can actually help enhance your sporting performance, explains Professor Henry.

“Not only does it help with perspective, but the two careers actually support each other, providing intellectual stimulation from study, release from stress, and improved performance in their sport,” he says. “Focusing on another area such as study is beneficial, not only as preparation for post-athletic careers but also in terms of motivation in training and preparation.”

The athlete perspective

According to three-time Olympic rowing gold medallist James Tomkins, who is also a member of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, 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 your athletic career ends.

“When it comes time to retire, if you’ve been working or studying alongside your training then it will show any prospective employers that not only are you someone who has achieved fantastic results in sport – you’re also someone who understood that sport wouldn’t last forever and did something about it,” he says. “When I retired from rowing, the transition was far easier for me because I had been developing that second career whilst I was competing.”

Click here to read former rower James Tomkins’ in-depth account of how he managed a career alongside his sport, and how doing the same could actually make you a better athlete.