Credit: Photo Credit, David Niblack,

Whether in high school or college, today’s student athletes face numerous challenges both on and off the field. They must maintain high grades while committing upwards of eight hours per day to practice, film sessions, lifting, and other various team events. While time management may seem difficult, it is not impossible for people who are already highly motivated. Here are a few of the strategies that I used to graduate summa cum laude while playing division II college football.

Learn to Prioritize

One of the biggest time management problems facing many athletes is the inability to distinguish what is important and what is not. Generally, tasks come in four categories. First are the urgent and important tasks which must always be completed as soon as possible. An essay due tomorrow is an example of this because it must be done if an athlete wants to maintain eligibility. Next are the tasks that are important but not urgent. Three weeks ago, that essay would have fallen in this category because while important, there is no rush to complete it. The third category includes things that are urgent but not important such as incoming calls from friends and much of social media. Finally, there are those activities that are neither important nor urgent such as watching movies, partying, and browsing time wasting websites.

Understanding which category an assignment falls into will help you prioritize and focus on the most important. Ideally athletes should spend the majority of their time working on tasks that are important but not urgent. This will help prevent the stress of rushing through an assignment or having to pull all-nighters which negatively impact an athlete’s performance on and off the court. Additionally, athletes must learn to say no to urgent but not important activities. This is an especially important skill for college athletes living on busy campuses surrounded by socially active friends. 

Eliminate Distractions

While working on a particular assignment, it is important to free yourself of distractions. Turn off your cell phone and the TV. Log out of Facebook, Twitter, and any other time wasting sites that will draw your attention away from your work. It is also a good idea to separate your living and working spaces. I could never focus in my dorm room and would always go to the library and use the computers there because they did not have all the distracting gadgets that my laptop had. Whether it is a coffee shop, library, or even a park bench, it is important to study in an environment that caters to your individual studying needs. By limiting distractions, you will finish your work sooner and have more time later to enjoy these things the way they were meant to be.

Make Time

The key is to make use of every bit of down time the day has to offer. For example, one semester I had an hour between class and practice during which I would do my Spanish homework. Reading Don Quixote was the last thing I wanted to do before practice but I knew it would only get worse as the day went on and my energy ran out. Just like in training for the big game, athletes must learn to make sacrifices in the present for rewards in the future. The key is to be creative. For example, away games are great opportunities to catch up on homework. Players will of course need to focus on the game or match when they are on their way to the field but the trip to the city and the return trip home are windows of down time that can be put to good use.

Take Breaks

When you are tired and hungry, you will not produce your best work. I had a coach tell me once to take at least 30 minutes of each day to do something I enjoy. This is the right idea but few people can realistically read a dense text or work through difficult equations for several hours on end. Instead, plan to take a short 5-10 minute break every hour. Use this time to answer texts, watch a movie segment, or find a snack. When you come back, you will be more focused than before.

Achieving Success

Being a student athlete is one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. It allowed me to mature both professionally and personally. While this lifestyle may seem overwhelming now, it will pay off in the end and time management is the key. After all, if you want something done, bring it to a busy person and no one is busier than today’s student athletes.