USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Jason Smith is a former NCAA DIII athlete and college coach at all three division levels. Jason is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
When “time management” come up in conversation, student-athletes’ eyes tend to glaze over and their attention span fades. And I get it! It’s hard to impress upon high school athletes—and even adults—the importance of developing time management skills before they pack their bags to start their new college adventure. However, from games to practice, travelling, classes and homework, student-athletes have a lot on their plates. They need to go into college with a realistic idea of the time commitments required of them and armed with some applicable time management skills.
College athletes work nearly the equivalent of two full-time jobs
To get a better understanding of the time commitments required of NCAA student-athletes, the NCAA conducted a survey of 21,233 college athletes at the Division I, Division II and Division III level. Here’s how much time they reportedly spent on athletics per week during their season:
- Division I: 36.6 hours a week on average
- Division II: 33 hours a week on average
- Division III: 29.5 hours a week on average
If this seems like a significant chunk of time—it is! While the off season can be a great time to catch up, two-thirds of Division I student-athletes reported that they spent as much or more time on athletics during the off season as during the competitive season. Athletes explained that their time is taken up by the following activities:
- Supplemental workouts
- Strength training
- Film review
- Academic meetings
- Injury treatment and prevention
- Sports psychologist sessions
- Nutritionist sessions
- Prospective student-athlete host duties
- Team fundraising
- Media activities
- Community services
- Compliance meetings
If this seems like a lot to do, don’t forget to layer on academics. The NCAA survey asked student-athletes how much time they spend on academics each week:
- Division I: 38.5 hours a week on average
- Division II: 38.5 hours a week on average
- Division III: 40.5 hours a week on average
Looking at the numbers, it may seem like an impossible task to balance athletics, academics and any other activities you may want to participate in. But remember: Athletes have made it work for years, and a lot of it comes down to better time management.
How a former DI athlete balanced athletics and academics
Managing a challenging class load while excelling in your athletics is tough to master, but it can be done! NCSA recruiting expert and former D1 baseball player Aaron Sorenson accomplished just that. I spoke with him about the time-managing tips and tricks he picked up in his four years as a collegiate athlete.
- Develop good habits while you’re in high school. Learn how to study and how to write, Sorenson advises. “You can get by in high school because teachers aren’t worried about your writing style,” he says. “But in college, just finishing something won’t get you an A or a B.”
- Schedule your classes to account for when you’ll be travelling for your sport. “I was lucky, because at my school, athletes could sign up for classes two weeks before everyone else,” Sorenson says. Because of this, he could manipulate his schedule to concentrate his classes on days when he knew he wouldn’t be traveling. Monday late morning and afternoon, Tuesday and Wednesday were designated for classes. Then, he travelled with the team for games Thursday night through Sunday. “You need to plan and take ownership of your schedule. It’s not easy, especially when you know that your other friends on campus aren’t going to classes on Friday either, but they get to sleep in and have fun rather than sit on a bus,” Sorenson says.
- Use your downtime wisely—even when you’re on the bus or at a hotel. “Bus rides can be a good opportunity to study,” Sorenson advises. “But remember, there are 25 or so other people on that bus who may not care if you’re studying. It’s your personal preference if you can isolate yourself and get stuff done. If you’re going to get distracted, get everything done ahead of time.” He adds that some of his teammates could get homework done in the hotel room between games. Find what works for you and stick with it.
- Create your own deadlines for assignments. At the start of each semester, you’ll receive a syllabus from each of your professors. Look at those dates compared to your athletic schedule and plan to get work done ahead of time if you know you’ll be gone. “I liked having my stuff done for peace of mind and not being stressed out while travelling,” Sorenson explains. “When things were assigned, I did them immediately, not the week they were due. I made up my own due dates so I wouldn’t have any excuses.”
- Treat your school day like a 9-5 job. A simple trick: Study in between classes. “I decided that 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. was my school day, so in between classes I would get things done. I knew that after 5 or 6 p.m., everyone would be back in the house and it would be a lot tougher.”
- Ask for help. Transitioning from high school to college will come with a steep learning curve, and it’s OK to ask for help from tutors, go to study halls and find the resources you need. “There’s a lot of pride in athletes who don’t ask for help until it’s too late,” Sorenson says. “Athletes know they are smart enough to do something, but someone else may be able to help you get there faster or more efficiently.”
- Prioritize your tasks based on what is most urgent and most important. If you have a dozen tasks to accomplish, chances are, you don’t need to finish all of them right now. Organize your tasks by how urgent and important they are. The tasks that are most urgent and important should be completed first, leaving the lesser important, unurgent tasks for later.
- Write everything down in a planner. Writing things down serves two important purposes: It reminds you of tasks you may have otherwise forgotten and the act of writing it down impresses it deeper in your memory. It’s also helpful to have all of your tasks in one place for a quick, easy reference point if you need it.
- Leave buffer time in between difficult tasks. As you’re planning out your day, remember that it’s impossible to go from one task to the next all-day long. At some point, you’re going to need a break. Account for the time you’ll need to stand up, stretch and even get a snack.
“Prioritize and make time for your schoolwork,” Sorenson summarizes. “I had enough time, but I just needed to take advantage of that time. Once you know that it’s possible, you just need to get it done.”