Coaches and parents often ask me whether a child's grades in school should impact their ability to play organized team sports. It is a difficult question to which there are no easy answers.
Playing A Team Sport Competitively Requires Commitment
By the time they are ten years old, most kids have decided that, if they are playing team sports, they want to play competitively. When a child decides to play team sports on a competitive level, she, and her parents, makes a number of important commitments. They are to become committed to:
- The players
- The coaches
- Practicing hard
- Playing their best
- To be self confident
Playing on a competitive team, and the commitments it requires, teach a child valuable life lessons, not just about winning. Among other benefits, a child learns:
- The importance and value of teamwork
- New physical skills
- The rewards of hard work
- To be self confident
But she will enjoy these benefits only if she remains committed to, and a part of, the team.
Many times a parent will take away privileges from their child when his grades are not what he is capable of. School performance is very important. It opens the doors to many opportunities, such as college and better jobs. If a talented high school athlete does not perform up to her potential in the classroom, she will have a more difficult time making the most of her athletic talent in college.
A parent's job is easy when the child wants to perform well in school and good grades come easily. When school is a struggle for the young athlete, however, the parent also may struggle to find the right motivator to help the child stay focused in school.
Take Away Privileges; Don't Break Commitments
One strategy many parents employ is to take away privileges from the child if he is performing poorly in school. This often means taking away fun activities like hanging out with friends or going to special places. It can mean limited or no telephone/TV/computer time.
Another tactic is to punish a child for poor grades by pulling him off a sports team so he can concentrate on his studies. I think that this teaches the wrong kind of lesson. It teaches the child that the commitments he made when he became a member of a sports team really are not important enough that they can't be broken. It also deprives the child of the chance to learn new skills that may actually improve academic performance. As the child reaps the benefits of hard work on the athletic field, he develops such important life skills as follow-through and the ability to work as a member of a team towards a common goal.
When a parent takes the child out of an activity to which they have made a commitment, I believe it sends the child mixed messages. Whatever the nature of the activity, whether it is a church group, scouts, choir or sports team, the parent and child agreed before the child started that it was worth the commitment of time, money and energy. When one makes a commitment to a team or group, other people are counting on that person to live up to their commitment. If the parent takes away the commitment, the child begins to believe that making a commitment doesn't have value.
Instead of pulling your child off a sports team for poor grades, take away privileges, such as watching TV, use of the computer or hanging out with friends, instead. Taking away privileges doesn't send mixed messages. Also, the privileges can be restored if you see improvement in your child's grades. Dropping off a sports team is a decision that isn't so easily reversed.
The time to decide whether your child can juggle academics and the demands of playing a team sport, especially at the high school level, is before the season starts.