Getting it done.
By Andrew Wright
In my last article I outlined the importance of competitive sports programmes for youth athletes and how they build employable, disciplined, leaders. It is easy to point out these positive traits and its evident, that highly motivated individuals, can perform at the highest level both in and out of the arena.
However, it has been frequently documented that schools in many Asian cities, including Hong Kong, boast longer hours and higher academic standards, than many of those in the West. With this in mind, it seems impossible that athletes residing in these cities could possibly focus on sport and school, at any reasonable standard.
They do! The question is how?
To answer this I spoke with two of Hong Kong’s up and coming sports stars Miles Williams and Reiny Brown, on how they manage their time on a daily basis. I also spoke with the head of secondary at a competitive academic school, to get the opinion of an educator, and to gauge their understanding of what these athletes endure.
Miles Williams is a 16-year-old swimmer/triathlete who holds the 1500m freestyle junior record and is the 2013 Asian youth triathlon champion. He is currently taking his GCSE exams, before going into his final two years of IB (International Baccalaureate), at West Island School. Currently training 19-20 hours per week and averaging 12 hours of travel “Makes you very tired” says Williams. “I try and study on the bus, if I don’t fall asleep, and no doubt the training takes its toll on my grades but, I have never missed a session for school work. During exam time I have more time to train and revise and there is no need to reduce training hours. I am aspiring to get into university here in Hong Kong or the United States. I would love to continue training through university to see how far sport takes me”.
Reiny Brown, who trains along side Miles, is 15 years old and focuses on triathlon. The straight-A, German Swiss International School student, was recently fourth at the Australian youth triathlon champs and won the Hong Kong X-Country champs last year. His training averages 18-20 hours with an additional 8 hours of travel. Brown suggests his training positively affects his school grades. “I do need to work at lunch times though and we employ private tutors for tough subjects, such as Mandarin. As long as I stay disciplined and have my training schedule for the week, everything is planned around that. Family is extremely important and we work everything out like a team, this also happens with my coaches and schoolteachers. Social life is the main thing that suffers, but training has become my social life. My bicycle is like a girlfriend to me. I still have three years of school left but I dream of competing for Hong Kong in the World Champs and Olympics”.
Justin Alexander has been the head of secondary at Chinese International School, for the past 5 years. “As a teacher and as a school, you certainly do take into consideration the extra hours that student athletes put into their sport and recognize that they have unique challenges to face when trying to manage a training, competition and school schedule. The most critical advice that I can give to both the students and their parents is to include and involve the school in discussions about the sport and the likely commitments that are needed at the start of the school year. We generally find that ‘student athletes’ need to be very organised with their schoolwork and their training schedules and be efficient with their time in order to stay on top of both areas. As always, if athletes or their parents can anticipate a problem with schoolwork, it is much better to contact teachers ahead of time rather than wait until the crisis hits. Some athletes may wish to consider spreading their final years of schooling out by an extra year to help their workload and give them a better opportunity for success in individual subjects. The IB Diploma programme which many schools in Hong Kong offer, does allow the opportunity to spread the final 2 years of High School over a three year period. We celebrate and acknowledge the successes of our elite athletes and as a school it is important we recognise that we want to develop a balanced student population, that includes high level academic students, musicians, athletes, artists, and performers”.
These are strong examples of what athletes are capable of and how they approach their student and sporting life. It also gives some insight into the professionalism of certain schoolteachers and their understanding of the athlete’s situation. There are many other examples just like these. Make sure you, as an athlete, are one of them and fulfill your full potential in both the classroom and in your chosen sport. Below are some pointers to help you on your way.
Key messages to ‘student athletes’
1. Ask for help - Speak with teachers, parents, coaches and let them know your schedule and how they can help. Schools are proud to have good athletes and will welcome that extra help maybe needed.
2. Set goals – If you don’t know your sporting and academic goals you will not know how to allot your time affectively. Use a yearly planner to plot exam and competition dates as well as intense training and study periods.
3. Prioritize – Something has to give. Being the best at sport and school will mean sacrificing social activities. Educate your friends on what you are doing and they should respect that you do not have free time after school and on weekends.
4. Make a “To do list” – When something is written down it is guaranteed to be remembered and done. On your weekly training plan add a column where you can write down this list.
5. Don’t waste time – Interruptions like Facebook, Instant Messengers and TV can be seriously disruptive to studying. Plan time blocks where disruptions are not a factor and get your work done.
6. Build a support network – A good coach, teachers, and parents on board are essential. Advice from them on nutrition, medical and psychological support is paramount.
7. Sleep – Without 8+ hours sleep per night recovery is compromised and results will suffer. This should be a number one priority and goal each week. Early morning training = early to sleep.
8. Think like a champion – The sooner you get your priorities right and start thinking positively the quicker this will translate into victories.