Getting the 'right' balance of sport and study.

It’s a given that most parents want their children to do some sport and hope they will do reasonably well at it. But what happens if you feel your child is struggling with the competing demands of sport and study? Or when you have the “good problem” that your child shines in sport and therefore wants to, or is being strongly encouraged to spend significant hours training?

After a slightly delayed start of the school year following WA’s shock lockdown, students are back in classrooms (and thank goodness for that!) with PSA sports action in full swing.

But with students back in class and also back on the field, a question that often gets asked is, how can parents help ensure their child achieves good academic results and also performs well in their chosen sport or sports?

My eldest child played sport at an elite level throughout the latter years of high school while also being one of "those academic ones" too.

In the end, all the efforts were worth it, but those years certainly had their fair share of stressful moments that tested my own organisational skills.

Here are some tips about what I learnt, some the hard way, with input from others, including Trinity College 2018 Dux, Joseph Pinto.

1. Keep an up to date calendar 

Use whatever works for you, your child and the rest of the family. A digital or hardcopy calendar for listing all activities is a good one. Remember to include all due dates for projects, test and exam times, as well as times and locations of all sport practice sessions and games/competitions. Make any amendments as soon as they hit your inbox so you don’t forget to include them.

2. Manage time 

Teach your child to manage competing demands placed on their time by blocking out segments in their calendar for not only the events referred to above, but also travel time. Then block out time for homework/study and family occasions including meals.

Kids who combine sport and study have to learn to use weekends wisely and probably make some sacrifices in terms of their social life, especially if they are competing at a high level. However it’s also important to schedule some down time for catching up with friends.

3. Use travel time to and from school, practices and games wisely

This can be a good time for your child to review notes or use audiobooks with ear buds. While some parents complain about driving time, I found it was great to turn off the radio or music and talk about school, a project, or anything.

4. Don’t procrastinate 

Or leave things until the last night before the due date, for that matter. Of course this is good commonsense advice for everyone but especially for students who are busy because you never know what may suddenly happen - an injury that requires a doctor’s or physio appointment, or a last minute opportunity for an extra practice session suggested by a coach.

This also helps avoid getting behind and dealing with the stress of playing catch-up, either with school work, sports practice – or both.  

5. Ask for help

Encourage your child to not be shy about asking teachers, or you as a parent, for help or advice. Many students who compete at a higher level feel frustration at a coaches’ lack of flexibility so keep an eye on this, too, and ask for adjustments if necessary. 

6. Check the motivation 

If your child is playing at a high level and devoting significant time to their sport, check in with them about their motivation levels. Are they doing it because of the enjoyment the sport gives them? Do they have a goal related to that sport (such as an overseas scholarship, or representing WA or Australia for example)? Or, are their efforts beyond standard school sport to impress another family member or friends? If you are thinking of raising these questions, ensure you do this at the right time when both of you are calm and your child is receptive to having such a chat.

7. Keep them grounded

Try to ensure your child does some chores in the home. Students competing at a more elite level may have very little spare time, and certainly not enough to flip burgers, stack shelves or work at a checkout on weekends. However, you only have to look at some of famous sporting people for a lesson in what happens when they were not raised to remain grounded.

8. Remember the basics 

Try to make sure they’re not topping up too much with energy drinks and high sugar food. A good diet and plenty of sleep will keep them on track with both their studies and their sport. 

Whatever path you take it has to be right for your child. The key is good communication about their longer term goals and encouraging them to stretch themselves but giving them enough support so they don’t stretch themselves to the brink. Just how much that is will be different for each individual.

You may drive hundreds of kilometres all over town to and from sports events, drop hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on equipment and spend hours doing chores your child was supposed to do. However, while you’re doing all this, remember that students who participate in sport tend to fare significantly better both in school and in later life. That’s because participating in sport doesn’t just develop muscles and motor skills for the PSA season, but also time management, self-discipline and leadership skills that will last a lifetime.


Joseph Pinto’s TC 97 Club Assembly Speech, 2019
Sports and Education Work Well Together by Jay P. Greene is the 21st century professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas. Daniel H. Bowen is a post-doctoral fellow at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, published in The New York Times (
Nine tips for balancing school and sports