A balancing act for student-athletes

Gaels juggle schoolwork and sports commitments

Striker Tyler Swan says sports and school don’t always mix.
Striker Tyler Swan says sports and school don’t always mix.
Journal File Photo

Men’s soccer midfielder Tyler Swan, a third-year environmental science student, had to write a midterm less than 24 hours after returning from the team’s weekend road trip to Ottawa for the Final Four tournament earlier this month.

Like Swan, many athletes go through tough academic-athletic conflicts at Queen’s.

Swan said it can be difficult to get work done on the road, but it’s possible.

“It is tough to study, but we have time in the hotel, and if you use your time wisely, you can get everything done.”

Swan said his professors tend to be understanding when he needs an exam or an assignment due date rescheduled due to athletic commitments.

“Most profs are accommodating to varsity athletes in general, because they know the time conflicts can sometimes happen,” he said.

Swan said the time management required to be a varsity athlete helps him succeed academically.

“I find my marks are better during the season, just because you’re forced to manage your time wisely,” he said. “It makes you do your work on time, as opposed to the off-season, where you’re like, ‘I have time tonight or tomorrow, I’ll do it later,’ but then you procrastinate too much that it can be too late sometimes.” Men’s volleyball outside hitter Sam Pedlow had to deal with eight exams in two weeks earlier this year, sandwiched around the volleyball team’s opening weekend games.

“I just transferred into Phys Ed, so I’m trying to get my four-year Phys Ed degree done in three years, and I’m still trying to get my honours biology degree in five years,” he said. “It was pretty difficult to budget my time with volleyball, especially because it was our home opener and there was a lot of stress on us to perform.”

Pedlow said he does his best to keep athletics and academics balanced, but it’s tough at times.

“I try to keep it 50-50,” he said. “There’s times where I definitely want to skip my Wednesday night class and go practice, and there’s times where I feel like I really need to go to class.”

Women’s basketball head coach Dave Wilson, who’s entering his 26th season as the Gaels’ head coach, said athletes have more trouble balancing athletics and academics now than they did early on in his career.

“I think the academic stresses involved today are probably more than they were 20 years ago,” he said. “It’s honed the time-management skills of athletes even further to be able to cope with the academic demands and the athletic demands. Quite frankly, the athletic demands have gone up as well. … Sport is competitive by definition, and it’s keeping up with what the competition is doing in order to remain competitive. [Basketball’s] certainly one of the sports in this country that’s doing all that they can to develop athletes to their utmost, and so that makes it quite the challenge to keep up with all that.”

Wilson said the number of on-court practices per week during the season hasn’t increased over the years, but off-court and off-season training has intensified.

“Year-round practices … strength training, mental skills training, nutrition, all those are aspects that have, in one form or another, placed more demands on the athletes.”

Wilson said he spends a lot of time trying to help his athletes with academics.

“I meet with each athlete once every two weeks to deal with everything: academically, how basketball’s going, how their social life’s going,” he said. “I keep track of all their marks. … Basically, I’m just looking at it so I can identify any red flags and … anyone that’s doing really well that might be able to help another student with their course work.”

Wilson said he’s sometimes called on to vouch for athletes to their professors.

“Whenever there are potential conflicts, I urge athletes to get in contact with their professors as early as possible, inform them of what the situation is and see if there’s a resolution that they can do. I offer my name as assistance or confirmation that this is what we’re doing.

Wilson said his approach has proved successful over the years. “In 26 years, I have 100 per cent graduation, so I’ve never had a situation where athletes are unable to play [for academic reasons]. Certainly, they’ve run into difficulties … but nothing that we haven’t been able to overcome.”

The women’s basketball team ran into an academic-athletics conflict in last Friday’s season opener, as co-captain Sarah Barnes was away attending a graduate studies conference.

Wilson said he had no problem with Barnes missing the opener. “In [Barnes’s] case, it wasn’t about injury, it was about her making an academic commitment which I thought was very important for her to make.” Wilson said he thinks academics and athletics have a lot to offer each other.

“Some people see them as mutually exclusive, and I think that’s sort of backwards thinking,” he said. “In reality, they operate in concert with each other, and that’s why I think professors have been so accommodating. It’s a shame in one sense that we call one academics and one athletics, because in reality, what I’m teaching is the same life skills that they’re teaching. To me, our varsity athletics program should be very much like our graduate program in academics: we’re going to stretch them further, push them harder, stretch the limits and provide that opportunity and that level of growth.”

Wilson said the skills gained through athletics are a key part of the University’s mandate. “That’s what our academic mission is, to engage the world and to help our students become better leaders.”

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