When people hear that I travel during the academic year for tennis tournaments, they often ask: “How do you keep up with school and compete so often?”
The idea that sport can hinder academics and that it is difficult to balance success in both areas are common misconceptions. As I can personally attest, extracurricular activities – especially sports – are an asset to academic performance rather than a challenge.
Like many parents, mine encouraged me to try multiple sports during my childhood so I could find one that I enjoyed, that worked as a stress reliever and that kept me healthy. As young children grow into young adults, this philosophy does not change. As school gets harder, exams become more crucial and college applications loom, what could be more important than a productive way to relieve stress?
A clear state of mind is essential when trying to balance our growing responsibilities. For serious student-athletes, there is no better way to focus more on academics than to go practice, forget about the stressors for a few hours and return feeling more relaxed and ready to work. Everyone needs a break once in a while and I have found that increasing my tennis training does absolutely no harm to my studying habits. For student-athletes, our minds become clearer as the training hours go on and we improve our sport abilities at the same time.
Besides being a great stress reliever, tennis has also taught me valuable life skills. As an individual sport, tennis requires self-confidence, self-reliance, independence and critical thinking. These skills easily translate into academics: self-confidence and self-reliance are needed during tests; independence is needed for studying and time-management; and critical thinking is needed to solve problems. After six years of competing at a high level, I know that the skills I put to use in a game are the same ones I use to succeed in the classroom and beyond.
But don’t just take my word for it. Research from the United States Tennis Association confirms that when compared to non-athletes and participants in many other sports, young people who participate in tennis get better grades, devote more hours to studying, think more about their future, aspire to attend and graduate from college and have lower suspension and expulsion rates.
Not only does this research show that tennis helps improve behavior, but it also proves that tennis and school can go hand in hand to help student-athletes improve in both areas simultaneously. As a result of increasing my hours on the court, there are less hours to study and I have had to become more efficient with my time. I learned to study smarter, not longer. Both my grades and my Universal Tennis Rating have improved as a result, making me a happier person and a more attractive recruit for universities.
Learning to find this balance did come with its challenges. Some teachers worried about my missing out on content, while others saw it as my skipping school for a holiday. In addition, learning to be this organised from the age of 12 was stressful at first. I made sure, however, to keep the “student” part of “student-athlete” first and to take my studies with me on the road so that I would not be behind when returning to school. Tennis has helped me become more successful in the classroom by giving me opportunities to learn from the ways other student-athletes organise their time and balance their commitments to school and sport.
So the answer to the question, “How do you keep up with school and compete so often?” is that they go hand in hand. The more I succeed and focus on tennis, the more focus I put into my academics. Student-athlete means balance, not one or the other. The question more adults should ask is: “What sport will teach my child how to be as driven, hard-working and as focused as they can be in all parts of their lives?”
The answer for me is tennis.
Jade Wilkinson is a Dart Scholar who is 18 years old and recently accepted a place at Vassar College, where she will play on the varsity women’s tennis team. The deadline for applying for the 2019 William A. Dart Memorial University Scholarship is May 17. Visit dartscholar.ky for more information.