How do I help my student balance school and sports?

By Diane Schwemm

Many first-time college parents aren’t convinced that school and sports can be combined. But for students, “sports” can mean a lot of different things, and integrating physical activity into college life is almost always a good move.

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High School Parent | College Parent

(Note: this article is not directed to parents of NCAA Division I athletes, who have very specific academic requirements and support systems.)

Schools large and small testify that involvement in campus activities, including sports, helps students make friends, feel like part of the community, relieve stress and stay healthy. Perhaps your student is already playing for a varsity or club team, or is working out regularly at the campus recreation center. My son joined the track team right off the bat as a freshman and it really helped ease his transition into college life.

On the other hand, maybe your student isn’t venturing outside much because with harder coursework than in high school, and possibly a part-time job, she’s feeling overwhelmed. Maybe she’s still getting over the disappointment of not making a team, or assumes that her sports career is over since she’s a Division III athlete at a Division I university. But she really misses the time she used to spend with her high school team. How can you advise her?

Start by finding out what athletic and recreational options are available at her school. Different kinds of teams require different commitments, so depending on how things are going for her academically, you might steer her in one direction or another. Here are what the choices might look like, and suggestions for guiding the conversation:

Varsity intercollegiate sports

At a Division III school, your student can try out for many teams even if she wasn’t recruited. Academics come first at Division III schools, but the level of play is still high. A varsity team requires a significant time commitment, with daily practices (and occasional double sessions) plus full-day and sometimes overnight trips to away games.
“Where’s the track meet this weekend? Will you be able to study for the physics test on the bus?”
“Since softball started, it sounds like you’re feeling crunched between classes and the dining hall job. Do you want to talk about your finances and whether it would be a good idea to cut back at work for a while?”

Club sports

This is the next level of intensity. Club sports are typically student run and financed, so in addition to serious exercise and fun they offer students a chance to work on organization, leadership, and fundraising skills. Club sports can be intercollegiate and as competitive as varsity teams; time requirements and the length of the season will vary.
“I know you miss being on a team. Have you thought about trying out for ultimate frisbee?”
“Wow — a spring break trip to the Bahamas with the Sailing Club. How will you pay for that?”


This is the most relaxed team sport option on most campuses. Intramural teams are often open to faculty and staff as well as students, and practices may only be twice a week. Here’s a chance to return to a sport just for fun, or try something new.
“You’ve been sounding stressed, and I know you’re bummed about this winter weather. What do you think about ice broomball or innertube water polo?” (Real intramural sports at Colorado College!)

Fitness and recreation centers

Most schools have recreational facilities that are available free to full-time students. They may offer fitness and skills classes at a small or no additional charge and/or hold “open gym” hours for basketball, tennis, swimming, golf, etc.
“Did you know there’s a climbing wall in the college gym, and free drop-in yoga?”

Outdoor clubs

If your student’s school is located near woods, hills, or water, there is sure to be an outdoor club. A modest annual membership fee will entitle her to reduced prices on excursions and equipment rentals. This is an easy way to get outside and also be social.
“I’m sorry you can’t come home for the long weekend but I see the Outdoor Club is sponsoring a backpacking trip — you can even rent a tent and gear. Would you consider doing that?”

Being on a team has always helped my son stay on top of his homework. It forces him to be organized — somehow having less free time enables him to accomplish more. He loves to sleep in, but he did report that last semester he was often up before sunrise because of early morning pre-season track workouts. I can only hope he got to class on time those days…and didn’t go back to bed! 

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s weekly eNewsletter and purchase the Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year for additional tips, insight, and to help your college student succeed. You may also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow college parents by joining our Community Forum and College Parents’ Facebook group.

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