By Morgan DiVittorio, Riverside Brookfield
and Matthew Barbato, Evanston Township
It’s an urban legend that athletes have better grades when they’re in the season of their sport (or sports). But is that really true?
Evanston Township varsity baseball coach Ross Freeland said he has noticed a pattern amongst some student-athletes.
“I definitely have athletes who, when they’re in season, seem to be a little bit more organized, more focused and maybe a little bit more motivated,” Freeland said.
In season, athletes have less free time on their hands. With practices and games after school, most athletes don’t have time to go home and sit on their phones or watch TV. Consequently, they must learn to use their time wisely. With practices twice per day, Riverside Brookfield water polo player and swimmer Hannah Flynn said she knows how precious time is.
“During the season I have to manage my time,” Flynn said. “Since I have practice before and after school, I have to focus whenever I have time on my hands.”
Athletes can also be more efficient in season—a time crunch encourages organization and there’s not much down time to relax. For most athletes, focusing in class is imperative because there’s no time to relearn the material outside of class.
“When you are out of season, you are more likely to sleep through morning support and push things off because you feel like you have a lot of ‘extra time,’ and you just can’t afford to do that during the season,” Freeland said. “So I see athletes all the time seeking out every possible opportunity to be efficient and get things done during the season.”
It’s not just students and coaches who see a difference. Many studies have shown that student-athletes’ grades are higher than those of non student-athletes.
The University of Kansas did an observational analysis of student-athlete grade trends versus nonathletes. They found in general “there were significant differences among the athlete and nonathlete populations” and “in each measure, athletes had higher academic performance than non athletes.”
Part of the reasoning behind the higher grade trends could be eligibility rules. The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) has a set of academic standards that athletes must meet weekly in order to participate in their sport.
To put in simpler terms: Students must be passing at least five classes to remain eligible for their sports. Schools don’t take this rule lightly. Riverside Brookfield assistant principal John Treiber makes sure athletes reach these qualifications weekly so teams can play at full strength.
“The IHSA (eligibility) rule is definitely very important to (Riverside Brookfield),” Treiber said. “Our secretary checks for eligibility at the start of each week so we can determine who can and cannot play.”
This eligibility rule can take players out of practices and games, which is detrimental for an athlete. This rule boosts motivation to work harder in classes not only to stay on top of grades, but to be able to continue doing what athletes love: competing.
So what are schools doing to help their athletes not only be competitive in their sport, but also in the classroom? Some teams at Riverside Brookfield are adapting a “study table” method. A study table uses extra time before practice to get athletes who are struggling academically to work on homework so they don’t have schoolwork on their minds while competing.
“A study table is another name for an athletic study hall,” Treiber said. “Our wrestling team uses an athletic study table two to three times a week for athletes that need to get their grades up. They will usually hold a study table after school on days (a team) has a later practice.”
Some schools, like Evanston Township, have morning support programs before school because that’s often the only time that athletes have to go to their teachers for extra help.
While all of this may be true, the other side of the coin still exists. Going all out on the field and in the classroom can really wear on an athlete over the course of a season. Evanston Township sophomore Jay Moore is a multi-sport athlete and said he thinks that the effect on grades really depends on what sport it is.
“During cross country my grades were good, but during swimming season … I definitely noticed my grades drop off,” Moore said. “Personally, I think that was because of the rigorous swimming schedule, and being constantly sleep-deprived and tired.”
Unsurprisingly, it all depends on the student-athlete. Time management, organization and eligibility can all play a role in higher (or lower) grades.