7 Ways to Help Kids Balance Sports and Academics in the Time of COVID

There has always been a careful balance between school and sports, but now the facets of this challenge have changed completely. Not only is school and sport totally different than it has been before, there is also the added struggle of navigating a crisis. Everyone is stressed in ways that they have never been stressed before. 

We must all keep moving forward, so how does that work for fencers who also have academic obligations during the time of COVID? School and sport have not stopped, then have just changed. Everyone must find a workable balance between their interests and their education. This is not something that we can teach all in one fell swoop, but there is also a pressing immediacy to this issue right now. We have to give all of the tools we can to our kids. 

Parents, we know that you are stretched right now too. Juggling working and distance learning for kids, well it is exhausting. I know this firsthand with trying to balance every aspect of my own family life. Hopefully this post will help some of you to feel less alone while providing practical solutions.

Here are seven ways to help kids balance fencing and academics during the time of coronavirus.

1. Recognize that this is tough.

Giving grace is the first thing to realize. These are emotionally turbulent times for everyone – kids, parents, teachers, coaches, everyone. Before we think of anything else, we have to recognize how much strain that lockdown and social distancing have put on our kids. 

First and foremost, we have to move from a place of empathy. Technology has hiccups. Plans for the future have changed. Things are uncertain, still even after all these months. We are living in a constant state of being on guard, no matter how much we feel like we are adjusting to this “new normal”. It is still not normal. It is a huge stressor, and we don’t really know when it will end.

2. Build in (screen free) downtime.

We have to build in time and emotional energy for our young people (and for ourselves). That means making time for social connection over family dinner or impromptu naps or quick walks in nature. There is the saying that you cannot pour from an empty cup, and that is true now more than ever. 

Kids who are trying to manage school and sports are often spending a lot of time in front of screens, and it’s exhausting to the brain. We need to recharge our brains as well as our bodies and balance on screen time with unplugged periods to make it all work.

3. Maintain a consistent schedule.

This can be tough, but it is essential. Waking up at the same time every day, going to bed at the same time, and eating meals regularly will make all the difference. We no longer have the luxury of a school day or a sports calendar that is set out for us. Now we have to do it all ourselves, but it’s important. 

With distance learning, the structure comes from us. Maintain a weekday and a weekend schedule. Put a hard end to the school day. It is tempting to let things bleed into one another when you are always home, but we have to work to create the balance for everyone that a stable schedule brings.

4. Adapt to differences.

Your child might not do well with zoomed lessons in school or with fencing, or on the other hand they might do wonderfully with this style of learning. Every child is different, and especially now we need to appreciate those differences. 

Some people benefit from a workout early in the morning to boost their brainpower, while others are better off easing into the day with a big breakfast. We can think of this time as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and our kids to help them become successful. 

If something is not working, don’t be afraid to change it! This goes for both sport and academics.

5. Make blocks of activities.

There is so much brainpower going to juggling everything that now is a good time to simplify wherever you can. Look at your schedule and see what you can move around to make things easier. If you have one child who is involved in a sport and other kids who are not, think about having your non-fencer get outside and ride their bike or play in the yard during online fencing lessons. This can be “physical activity time” that can double as focus time for parents who are working from home. 

Quiet hours are also helpful. Set times when headphones are mandatory in the home so that the house can settle into quiet. 

This can also help with family togetherness. If you set a block of time for family chores or family activities then everyone can feel like they are connected while still being productive. 

6. Continue to make goals.

Goal setting is central and it is also critically important for academics and for fencing. Because there are not tournaments right now does not mean that there are not goals. This is a wonderful time to work on technique goals or stamina goals for athletes. In academics, students should create goals for how they want this academic year to play out.

In a time when things are so much up in the air, firm goals can help us to have an anchor to a time in the future. Coronavirus will not last forever, but we don’t have a hard notion of when we’ll see the end either. For now, make goals that you know are reachable during this time and reach for them. Post them on the fridge and let them guide everyone!

7. Think about the long game.

There are no immediate tournaments for fencers to compete in. There are no short term payoffs, no immediate places to go or competitions to achieve at. College is much different as a goal for academics, and the goal posts in academics are changing.

This is important for young people too because it can be hard for them to see beyond this. While it is a huge disruption and a scary time, we also know that we will survive it. We have all survived life so far. There will be fencing again. There will be college admissions again. The future is not gone, it is just postponed. It’s not even really postponed because we are moving forward!