A balancing act: High school athletes do their best to juggle sports and academics, but sometimes struggle

Joey Doyle bench-presses during an early morning workout at Minneapolis Southwest High School. Like many high school athletes, Doyle at times struggles to balance the responsibilities of academics and athletics. (Aidan Berg/ThreeSixty Journalism)

It’s 6 a.m. on a Monday when Joey Doyle arrives at the weight room of Minneapolis Southwest High School.

It’s still dark outside and the building is empty. Two hours before the halls fill with bustling students, Doyle is here, putting in the work on the bench press and pull-up bar.

Doyle, a Southwest senior, says the early morning workouts are what he feels he needs to stay in top shape and to live up to his title as soccer captain and marquee member of Southwest’s state champion Nordic skiing team, as well as his own expectations.

Like many high school athletes across the nation, Doyle struggles at times to juggle the added responsibilities of athletics within his academic schedule, but still feels sports are too important to give up.

“I have little to no social life when I’m in season, and can’t waste any time on my phone,” Doyle said. “I’m usually lucky enough to get to bed by 11.”

Southwest junior Ari Bogen-Grose, 16, plays soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring. He preaches the academic responsibility of the student-athlete.

“Something I individually am very good at is juggling my work and setting out a plan [for] doing it, rather than procrastinating until the last minute,” Bogen-Grose said. “But even with that skill, the workload I get, on top of the time I spend at practice and games, makes it very tough to handle.”

Brennan Hawkins, Southwest’s starting quarterback and basketball captain, agrees that it can be difficult to handle the workload.

“It’s about taking responsibility and being mature and knowing that you have to do something that you don’t want to do,” said Hawkins, a senior. “You don’t want to go to class, you don’t want to do homework, you have other stuff to do.

“But if you do it, your grades are going to be better, you’re going to be a better student, you’re going to learn these responsibilities and you’ll be better as a person.”

BENEFITS OF A BUSY SCHEDULE

Student-athletes have a lot of responsibilities to handle. They often have to think about games and practices on top of class, homework, relationships, family, outside interests and other responsibilities.

Southwest Athletic Director Ryan Lamberty knows finding a balance can be a struggle, but also believes the intense schedule helps students live their best lives.

“We know from stats that athletes get better grades, have better attendance, [are] less likely to drink or do drugs, less likely to have sex earlier, all those things that lead kids to dangerous positions,” Lamberty said. “Because they do care about themselves, they do have some external worth that they’re worried about.”

He added: “I see, on a daily basis, the kids who go to practice after school, in general, they don’t have time to get in trouble because they’re so tired. They go home, they do their homework and fall asleep.”

Sports are shown to help students achieve higher levels in other areas of life. The U.S. Department of Education says that high school athletes are more likely than non- athletes to attend college and get degrees, and a University of Miami study found that high school athletes are less likely to express hostility toward their classmates.

WHEN SPORTS COME FIRST

Sometimes, student-athletes put their busy schedules before sleep. Hawkins recalled one time during sophomore year when a Thursday night game and homework kept him up all night.

“I was at home, doing my home- work, sitting at my desk from 11 at night to 7 in the morning,” he said, “and then I just got ready and went to school. It was kind of crazy.”

Some athletes have to develop certain tricks to get by. Bogen-Grose does his homework on the long bus rides to away games, he said, and leans on his parents for moral support. Hawkins plans to do homework on days when he has no other obligations, he said. Doyle notes that he tries his best to get enough sleep and drink a lot of water so he can concentrate in class.

All three athletes agree that school is more important for them in the long-term. However, they also know there will be times when school may come second to sports.

Doyle recalled a time when he was tasked with studying for a math test that would account for the majority of his grade for the quarter. The week before the test, Doyle went on a week-long trip with the Nordic ski team to West Yellowstone, Montana.

“I had so much fun that I forgot my responsibilities as a student, and didn’t study or do any homework,” he said. “When I got back to school and took the test, I got a ‘C’ on it.
To say the least, I wasn’t very happy with myself.”

Hawkins said some nights, the games are just too draining and he can’t do the work. Bogen-Grose said he won’t ever skip a game or practice because he has schoolwork.

‘A BIG PART OF WHO I AM’

Some athletes say a sport brings les- sons and structure to their lives that they just wouldn’t have without it. That makes the balancing act worth it to them, even if they don’t have a definite future in athletics.

“Being an athlete is a big part of who I am as a person, and who I see myself as in 20 years,” Doyle said. “Will I go [Division I]? Most likely not. But I have learned many valuable lessons through sports, such as how to push yourself, how to trust others and how to manage time wisely.”

Hawkins said the camaraderie of team sports are great for high school students who are developing as people.

“You come together, you make friends,” he said. “I talk to some people I otherwise never would have talked to because of football and my sports.”

For some, such as Doyle, sports will continue to be in the picture.

“Regardless of where I go in life,” he said, “I will always take the time to participate in some sort of sport, no matter what it may be.”

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