Doing it all - Academics, sports & extracurriculars

Research surveys indicate that over 80% of children and youth are involved in extracurricular activities. Research points to the benefits of participating in extracurricular activities. Among these, extracurricular activities helps youth to explore developing identities, gain mastery in particular area(s), and figure out what they’re good at or may be good at.

Supporting balance

  1. Support youth to prioritize physical and mental health: are multiple demands affecting good physical and mental health practices/habits?Sleep: Encourage healthy sleep routine. On average adolescents need 9 hours of sleep per nightHealthy diet: Avoid skipping meals, intake of highly caffeinated drinks or energy drinks. Poor diet can negatively affect developing body during adolescence when a lot of changes are taking placeStress: Notice signs of stress like frequent tired/fatigue, constant worry, stomachaches and headaches, chest pains, muscle tension, withdrawal from people and activities Help youth to notice and label/identify feelings that may be indicative of stress/ recognize and acknowledge stress. It’s normal to feel stressed every now and then, but if it becomes a chronic feeling then activities might be compromising well-being Learn and practice stress management skills such relaxation exercises (e.g., deep breathing – there’s a lot of resources online outlining simple breathing exercises), taking a walk to clear mind/thoughts Seek out supportive people in life to talk about pressure and stress rather than going on as if everything is fine. Others may not be aware that the teen is feeling overwhelmed, especially if they’re still meeting their commitments.

Make time to take time

  1. Advise youth to build in time to nourish/replenish energy. Time to refuel helps with physical and mental health, and allows for balance.
    1. Set aside time each day to do something just for you. It doesn’t have to be a long activity, just something that’s downtime
    2. Time for relationships with family, friends, mentor, and other supportive individuals
  2. Help youth to set limits.
    1. Set realistic plans for extracurriculars. Start by gathering as much information as possible including how much time they take, whether you can do multiple ones, and whether they will cut into time for others things that are important to you
    2. Limit time to activity/activities that youth is into/interested. Rather than spreading time thin being superficially involved in multiple activities, invest time in /commit to ones that they are passionate about
    3. Recognize when extracurricular(s) become unrealistic in terms of time/commitment, and be ok with letting go/cutting out some
    4. Explore if extracurricular(s) are cutting into time for schoolwork, family, friends, sleep, etc.
  3. Time Management: learning to plan ahead and manage time effectively is a useful way to balance multiple demands and meet commitments/deadlines, and also reduce stress
    1. Encourage mentee to make use of an organizer: They can use a calendar or a planner to jot down all of their commitments including homework assignments, school projects/papers, tests, extracurriculars, & family obligations
    2. Schedule in downtime throughout schedule to have balance of structured/unstructured time
    3. Once activities are in the organizer, make habit of actually USING it. Look at it on a daily/weekly basis to update, make changes, etc.
  4. Encourage practice, practice
    1. Not mastered at one time. Balancing and the tools you use to help you are constantly evolving so don’t feel like you have to have it all figured out at once

What you can do

  1. Know signs of avoidance and procrastination (e.g., waiting until last day)
    1. support youth in addressing procrastination and problem-solving
  2. Model balance in your own life (e.g., professional, relationships, taking care of yourself).
    1. Youth will pick up on your own efforts at balance whether you intended for them to or not.

The Bigger Picture

The lives of youth have become increasingly busier as surveys suggest that over 80% of youth are involved in extracurricular activities. While there are benefits to participating in extracurricular activities, youth may also experience challenges with balancing it all. Empowering youth to take on balance in a proactive way with strategies/skills that help them to balance multiple demands in their lives has lifelong application.

From The Blog

The Chroncile of Evidence-based Mentoring

Three things mentors can do to help their mentees cope with stress
A young girl sits in my office, describing the “swishy” feeling that she gets in her stomach when she’s at school. It tends to happen at drop-off, just after lunch and as she watches the clock tick toward the end of the day. It happens so often that she knows she’s not actually sick, but it bothers her just the same. She can’t find a way to make it go away, and that makes it hard to concentrate. The thing is, she actually is sick to her stomach. This 7-year-old is, quite literally, worried sick. Stress and anxiety trigger that “swishy” feeling in her stomach, and without adequate strategies to work through it, that feeling is there to stay.

Balancing it all: The overscheduling hypothesis

Researchers have been studying the overscheduling hypothesis, an idea that has been extensively presented in popular media. The overscheduling hypothesis suggests that time spent on extracurricular activities has become excessive, and takes away time for academics, leisure/downtime, and relationships. Further, it suggests that youth take on an excess of extracurricular activities due to pressure from parents/guardians and pressure to have attractive resumes (e.g., for college), which creates stress/burnout and other problems. Results of studies that have looked at the overscheduling hypothesis have been mixed, with some finding benefits while others have not. Overall, researchers seem to suggest that it’s important to consider the number of extracurricular activities, how often youth participate in these extracurriculars, and how many years they have been participating, in order to consider individual youths’ experiences in terms of how they are impacted by participation.