Top 3 Tips for Balancing Boarding School and Sport by James Taylor
Having spent the last five years managing academic commitments at a boarding school (Eton College) alongside the demands of athletics training and competition; I’ve identified three things that I would like to have known sooner.
The combination of athletics and boarding school has led to success for several athletes; Jazmin Sawyers (2023 European Long Jump Champion), who studied at Millfield; and Lawrence Clarke (4th 110mH 2012 Olympics) who attended Eton College. When you’re on the way back from training at ten o'clock in the evening knowing that you have hours of homework to do before the morning, it is reassuring to know that others have been in similar positions and made it through successfully.
While there are undoubtedly challenges when managing athletics training and academic expectations, it is important to remember that being able to study in a supportive environment and pursue athletics is a brilliant opportunity that we are fortunate to find ourselves in and I hope that the three pieces of advice below will help you to maximise the opportunity you’ve been given.
Lawrence Clarke, former Eton College student, finished 4th place at the London 2012 Olympics 110m Hurdles (Image via Reddit)
When you’re busy it’s important to have a regular and fixed time or space to reflect and take yourself out of the fast-paced environments that you work and train in. For me it is bible study class once-a-week at school with my friends. This hour-long gathering is a time of reflection, acknowledgement, and anticipation. Everyone in the group is pursuing their own goals across a variety of fields and this provides a forum where we can apply the word of God to the unique situations and challenges that we all face.
Having a constant, when everything is changing, is a necessity, particularly for those balancing academics and athletics.
Without the support of friends and family, it would be hard to maintain such commitments. Religion plays a huge part in the UK athletics scene and it’s inspiring to see such a devoted community but it’s by no means the only source of community. Find something that works for you and keep track of your progress through reflection in order to keep on top of everything. There are lots of groups and communities that exist outside of athletics, and they provide a helpful release from what can be an all-consuming sport.
Having something to work towards, a goal in mind, provides motivation and resilience when things get hard. I know many athletes set their targets at the start of the season and this gives them something to work towards throughout the year. This method of goal setting can be applied to academics as well and it’s important to remember that if the academic work is under control, there’s more time and energy to focus on the track-side.
Both Lawrence Clarke and Jazmin Sawyers told me about their experiences pursuing athletics while at boarding school, but they said that the work-sport balance only gets harder at university and so building a strong work-ethic and routine while at school will benefit anyone looking to make the most out of university and athletics.
Jazmin Sawyers, recent European Indoor Long Jump Champion, attended Millfield School (📸 by James Rhodes).
I’ve found time management to be the most important factor when balancing two large commitments. Deleting some social media platforms and cutting out distractions enabled me to be more productive and get greater volumes of work done.
I decided to address my productivity when I heard a talk from Brigadier Nick Cowley OBE, who talked about the role of mastering the simple things to produce results. He mentioned that by being disciplined with his sleep, nutrition, and recovery, he was able to perform at his best when it mattered while he was on tour in Afghanistan. Following his talk, I focussed on improving my sleep schedule, nutrition and recovery and saw improvements in both my academic work and athletics training.
I saw Marquis Dendy and Grant Holloway training at Brunel and through a thirty-minute conversation with Marquis I learned how important these simple tasks are to elite performance, he gave the example of stretching for ten minutes before bed every day and ensuring he was hydrated every morning.
While it’s important to be disciplined with training, it’s even more important to be just as disciplined with recovery and the time you have in between training sessions. By maximising every activity and consistently going after marginal gains, the quality of training sessions will improve and the PBs will come.
Balancing boarding school with athletics is a huge opportunity and a very fortunate position to be in. It is important that anyone fortunate enough to have such an opportunity makes the most of it and I hope that these three pieces of advice help you to realise your goals, whatever they may be.
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