Balancing Academics and Sport

Balancing Academics and Sport

“Balancing both my academic and athletic goals has always been important to me, and, as such, I have had a lot of practice juggling it all over the course of my fencing career,” says Gerek Meinhardt, who earned the #1 world ranking in fencing in last January and won Men’s Foil Grand Prix just two days ago.  Meinhardt is also currently pursuing his MBA at Notre Dame University. 

“Crucial to my success with it all have been the good time management habits that my parents engrained in me at a young age. I love my coaches and team at Notre Dame, as well as the whole Notre Dame community, which has made my experience juggling it all very enjoyable.”

For Meinhardt, balancing education and fencing has helped him excel both as a better fencer and a student.  It’s an important skill – but one that is learned.  No one is born knowing how to balance their studies and a serious sport or activity.

The busier you are, the better you manage your time

I remember as a child taking 2-3 hours of music lessons four times a week.  It was an intense schedule, but I learned how to manage my time and was an excellent student.  In high school, my parents persuaded me to drop the music so that I could concentrate more on my studies.  But it had no desierably effect:   with all my extra time, I did not feel that I was actually more organized.  That’s why I am firm believer that the busier you are, the better you manage your time.  I feel a serious sport, such as fencing, will help to teach kids about time management and life balancing skills.

While I believe wholeheartedly that academics always take priority over athletics, I do not believe that you can learn time management skills by focusing first on school then adding in a sport.  Kids need to learn how to juggle both.  This will give your child a great opportunity to learn how to manage their time on their own.

We try to foster this ability to juggle both fencing and academics by providing a spacious, well-lit area in our upstairs lounge filled with comfortable chairs, desks, docking stations and wi-fi.  That way, students can study and they actually study between lessons.  Some of our students appreciate this “study room” so much they will come early to the club to do their homework!  Since AFM is a short walk from the light train stop, it’s quick and convenient for students at local schools to get to.

“I always taught [my students] to be respectful to every minute of their time” – Coach Natasha

Our Coach Natasha describes how her students in the former Soviet Union would become “infected” with the love of the sport.  They would have a spark in their eyes and made every effort to improve, never skipping a lesson and staying consistent in their training.  Even though Coach Natasha loved to encourage their enthusiasm of fencing, she would often emphasize the importance of education:

“Working with students in different countries, I always taught them to be respectful to every minute of their time,” says Coach Natasha.  “Plan each day for studying, training, competing and social life.  Clear organization of every day has helped my students to be the best academically and in sports … My concept is to educate students in the harmonious combination of academic excellence and fencing.”

Coach Natasha would often demand to see her students’ grades once a week to make sure they were keeping up with their studies.  If a fencer showed a decline in their grades, she would insist he or she stop coming to lessons and tournaments in order to take care of their academics.  Well, of course her students didn’t want to miss out on the lessons, so they learned to manage their time more wisely.  Soon her students were not only excelling in fencing but in school as well.

Jerry Chang, one of the most prominent fencers in America, was Coach Natasha’s student for 6.5 years.  He began fencing in 2002 at the age of 10.  By the time he was 13, he had become the youngest “A” rated fencer in the US.  In 2012, he became a worldwide champion in the junior division.  He credits his success to the excellent discipline and organization of his daily routine.  Today he uses this ability to combine his university studies at Harvard and his love of fencing.

After going to college, many of Coach Natasha’s students wrote to her expressing their deep gratitude for teaching them the importance of maintaining academic balance with their passion for fencing.

Saburzhan Yunusbaev, for example, was a student of Coach Natasha’s for many years and went on to become the foil champion of Kazakhstan.  He writes:

“You taught me to look at 24 hours differently.  To savor each second and learn how to do twice as much work as my colleagues.  Thank you and thanks to the sport of fencing where three minutes of a bout may last forever if you know how to manage every second!”

“Fencing is a duel between two individuals, each of whom puts their accrued fencing experience and intellectual potential into the space of 3 minutes,” says Coach Natasha.  “Playing with the opponent not only requires technique and tactics, but also a sense of timing.  Fencing teaches a person to process information instantly from thousands of possible choices.  The fencer must be able to make decisions within a fraction of time – a skill they use all throughout their lives.”