Golden RUle: Academics First, Athletics Second

by | 12/08/2020

(2min read)

Do you know why so many talented international student-athletes are interested in going to study and train in the United States?

Is it to get a university degree without paying for it?

More often than not, it’s because American collegiate athletics allow students with athletic abilities to extend their sporting careers after secondary school.

But there is just one caveat – academics are a pre-requisite to athletics, and not the other way around.

Student-Athlete 80/20 Rule

We all know what 80/20 means in collegiate athletics. It means that most prospective student-athletes imagine focusing 80% of their time, energy, and effort into their sport, while leaving only the leftovers to academics.

I must admit. It was also my expectation before going to study and train at an American university.

But I burned my fingers pretty quickly.

The academic part of a student-athlete’s commitment soon started looking overwhelming. I didn’t realize that it would require so much discipline academically to stay on top of my course work.

I thought rules were there to break. So, I didn’t worry much about the academic eligibility part of the equation.

Only when I got into the habit of procrastinating to study for exams the night before, I realized something that I was told many times before:


No one is asking you to have straight A grades unless that is your own ambition. To keep your athletic eligibility, you need to keep your head above the water and maintain a safe level GPA and course progress towards your degree.

And that requires a certain kind of mindset.

Setting Student-Athlete Priorities

Student-athletes’ ultimate prerequisite to continue training and competing is to have sufficient grades and class attendance.

Try to remember some of your hardest training sessions after which you still had to study for an exam or finish complicated homework.

Not particularly pleasant memories.

College athletics can become that experience on a regular basis if academics isn’t taken care before athletics.

Athletes by nature are driven to perform. Given that most student-athletes identify more with the athlete side of the compound, they will leave the student side behind unintentionally, if priorities have not been established.

Walking into the student-athlete commitment, you should probably count on having some tension between athletics and academics. However, if you always remember to take care of academics first, you will find yourself ahead of the game with enough energy and time for your sport and beyond.

Discipline Equals Freedom

Having slept 4 hours before exams and practices can be a student-athlete reality. And it’s definitely not optimal for either school or sport.

It does not have to be that way.

I find Jocko Willink’s “Discipline Equals Freedom” slogan very practical here. The quicker you take care of the business that you may not feel in a mood for, the more time you will have left for the things you’re truly passionate about – like your sport.

So, remember: always take care of the academic business first, and you will have enough time and energy left to train hard, fool around with friends, and maybe even some time to sleep at the end of the day.


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