The Struggle is Real: Balancing Swimming & Academics

by Olivier Poirier-Leroy. Join his weekly motivational newsletter for competitive swimmers by clicking here.

With another school year here – seriously, where did this year go? – comes another bout of the juggling that happens between a swimmer’s training & competition schedule and their schoolwork.

For those attending college this fall, the expectation is that for every hour of classwork that is done you will be studying an additional two hours outside of the classroom on your own. With a full time class schedule of 15 hours, plus the expected 30 hours of studying, this comes in at a hefty 45 hours.

(Expectation doesn’t necessarily correlate with what is happening however. Research has shown studying output has dropped dramatically in recent decades to an average of 15 hours of studying per week. Thanks, Google!)

And then there is the training. Whether it is 6, 7, or 11 sessions per week (plus meets!), the 1-2 punch of school and swimming can be overwhelming for anyone who hasn’t taken a little bit of time to manage their time properly.

Here are 6 tips for maintaining a balance and achieving big in your bathing suit and in your nerding:

1. Plan your time. Student-athletes get overwhelmed when their schedule gets away from them. Instead of planning out their time so that they can make the most effective use of it, they are in a constant reactive state, forced to react to things as they happen. Plan your week and days so that you can make the most of your time. Plot out sections of distraction-free time specifically for studying and stick to them.

2. Identify the time leaks. If you find that your days are still too short for the swimming and schooling combination do a time inventory of your day. For a few days write out a detailed log of your day. Write down everything. The 15 minutes on the bus, 40 minutes hitting the snooze button, the hour watching TV, the 39 minutes spent on Facebook, and the 45 minute shower in the morning. You might think that there is no time to be carved out, but you will never truly know until you sit down and write out exactly what you are doing over the course of the day.

3. Learn to say no. For those athletes who are leaving home for the first time, and are in the midst of a new social situation, the pull of new friends and new social interactions can be excruciating to say no to. But it is something you will have to learn how to do. There will be nights where the rest of the team is going on a social outing, but you still have an 8-page paper due the following morning.

4. Go distraction free. Want to finish your studying twice as fast? Put your cell phone away. Promise yourself that you can check it after a set amount of time, or after the task is completed. Similarly, test out what works best for you in terms of a studying environment. Having roommates or lots going around you hampers your focus on the task at hand.

5. Make time for sleepy time. Rest is usually the first thing that gets thrown out the window when we feel that our time is starting to get away from us. Between all night study sessions and early morning workouts, sleep can start to feel like it is getting in the way. But besides the whole helping-your-body-recover-from-training aspect, a lack of sleep is also linked to heightened blood pressure, decreased creativity (gonna need that for paper writing!), and impaired memory (that sounds important). Also, in purely unscientific studies it’s been shown that a lack of sleep can make people into jerks. And nobody likes a jerk.

6. Ask for help when you need it. Often our pride doesn’t allow us to raise our hand until it is almost too late. Instead of waiting for the fire to be out of control, spot the trouble patches early and reach out to your coach, or teachers and let them know that you need some help. Many collegiate teams have dedicated academic assistance, so take advantage of it when the need arises.


Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer. He’s the publisher of YourSwimBook, a ten-month log book for competitive swimmers.

Conquer the Pool Mental Training Book for SwimmersHe’s also the author of the recently published mental training workbook for competitive swimmers, Conquer the Pool: The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide to a High Performance Mindset.

It combines sport psychology research, worksheets, and anecdotes and examples of Olympians past and present to give swimmers everything they need to conquer the mental side of the sport.

Ready to take your mindset to the next level?

Click here to learn more about Conquer the Pool.

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6 years ago

Or just don’t be dumb

6 years ago

Can’t show my hs senior #3 enough, it fits for the phone too. Say no to any and all distractions. Steve Jobs said it best: “Innovation comes form saying no to 1000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much.” Ironic that he invented the ultimate distraction.

6 years ago

It’s really hard at schools that “work around” the 20 hour a week training limit. It’s funny he put a time quantity on school, studying but failed to do so in the actually swimming which is the only variable actually regulated by the NCAA. 20 hours, that should have been the easy math. Unfortunately many school don’t play by those rules.

expert coach
6 years ago

best advise i have is just to homeschool

Reply to  expert coach
5 years ago

If you’re a student-athlete for a college team? Not really an option.

Reply to  expert coach
5 years ago

Lol the homeschooled kids always adjust to college life easily 😀

6 years ago

I think #3 is the key. Balancing swimming and school is manageable for most students. Balancing swimming, school, and an active college social life is very difficult. A normal student can go out 4 nights a week and still have enough time to study. A swimmer — not so much.

6 years ago

Colleges vary in their academic rigor. If they give hard exams, you are going to have to study more, or you are not going to get good grades. And of course, some majors are more demanding than others.

Reply to  marklewis
5 years ago

Just a thought: you really shouldn’t be in college just to get good grades or to do well (or not so well) on exams. The binge – memorize – purge cycle we all know too well.

You’re supposed to be there to learn. A lot of things, including how to be a young professional in your discipline, how to function as an independent adult, and maybe most importantly (and related to the comment above from Dr. Norris) – how to be intellectually curious and actually learn. So that you can continue doing it the rest of your life.

Advice that often falls on deaf 18-20 year-old ears, swimmers included. It did mine.

Dr Richard Norris
8 years ago

I recently developed a “Learn to Study” course for kids (because they never really got taught). I am no expert but I did swim for 23 years and managed 11 years of university (40+ hours of lectures per week; undergrad and postgrad).

This concept came about as I listened to our swimmers stress about exams. When I asked them about how to study they generally have a blank look.

I approached all the high schools in our area and only one school was interested. We are trialling a series of workshops in the New Year.

I also thought I would approach the national swim association as I’ve learned that there is a high attrition rate of swimmers here… Read more »

Reply to  Dr Richard Norris
6 years ago

Dr. RIchard Norris, how can someone get this “Learn to Study” course? I’ve been telling our school that they need something like this and just got lip service. It would be a great help if there was something out there that would help.

Reply to  Dr Richard Norris
5 years ago

Why does this have a 50% downvote rate? This should absolutely be something implemented into education, regardless of the level.

He said What?
Reply to  DrSwimPhil
5 years ago

Because of the internet trolls. Ignore their down votes and focus on the program and the people smart enough and open enough to realize its value.

Melissa santo
8 years ago

I quit swimming 6 months to have a “normal” life but I miss it to much to stop I just don’t know how to balance school work and training

Big Buldge
Reply to  Melissa santo
5 years ago

I thought about your dilemma for a few hours and I calculated that your best course of action is to to quit swimming and school

Reply to  Melissa santo
5 years ago

Try masters, particularly after you finished school.

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 he was thrown in the water at the local pool for swim lessons and since then has never wanted to get out. A nationally top ranked age grouper as both a …

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