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Refocusing a Student-Athlete

Thursday, September 4, 2014 -- Scott Sterling

With the start of the school year comes football season. At some schools in some states (ahem, Texas), it dominates everything else that goes on in the classrooms. It’s all kids can talk about. And if you have a player or two in your classes, it’s probably all they can think about.

But this can apply year-round to any athlete. Serious athletes put a lot of pressure on themselves. It comes with the territory. But how, as their teacher, can you get them to focus back on their studies?

Show an interest

This might seem counterintuitive, but you might actually want to engage the student about their sport. Chances are, they think you don’t care about sports. That might be true, but it doesn’t take a lot to ask them how the team is looking and how practice is going. Bring up the stories you see in the newspaper (particularly if it mentions them).

This does two things: it builds the general relationship and it widens the communication channels. If those two things happen, they are more likely to come to you if they’re having trouble in class. Or listen if you have to do some redirecting.

Make it clear: you and coach talk

Some athletes think there is no possible way their academic, “nerdy” teachers even work at the same school as their coaches. They certainly don’t attend the same faculty meetings or eat in the same lunchroom. This is obviously not the case.

Take the opportunity to ask the coach how your student is doing on the field, and then drop it on the student periodically (“Coach says you’ve really been trying hard this week”). Then, if they consider dropping the ball in class, they’ll know coach will hear about it.

Look at the schedule

Yes, classes are more important than sports. Yes, your pacing guide has many benchmarks to meet. But it’s unrealistic to think that everyone will be focused on your test the day of the pep rally or biggest game of the season. The athlete didn’t study and the other students will be too distracted.

Do yourself a favor and put the big sporting events on your Outlook calendar and lesson planner. Then make sure you schedule your student athletes, and your students in general, for maximum focus.

Show some spirit

Finally, it won’t hurt to show that you actually care about the culture of the school and its students. You might have the most engaging, thought-provoking lessons in the world, but it will go a long way toward building relationships if the kids see you as something other than an academic stick in the mud.