Sports coaches seem to know a lot more about planning for success than the rest of us. How else could you explain their nearly universal success at getting teens to prepare diligently every day for months in advance for a test that might not ever even take place? Most teachers would sacrifice a month of summer for that level of commitment from their students, right? (OK, maybe a week of summer at most…)
Athletic coaches, aided of course by the allure of American sports culture, tend to be excellent at eliciting the behaviors required for incremental improvement over time. We can credit a collective acceptance of the aphorism, “You play like you practice,” but should also look beyond that to understand why teen athletes are willing to do whatever it takes to be ready on game day: everyone understands that you cannot become an elite athlete overnight.
Well before a sports season begins, athletes engage in conditioning and training. Throughout the season, they commit hours a day in pursuit of victory in a local league that may translate to competition at higher county or state levels. Every single athlete begins with an end in mind, a championship victory that resounds through the ages. And no serious athlete ever imagines that he or she could cram for the big game the night before.
So why do high school students fail to apply such obvious insight to academics?
A championship at the highest level of the most popular sport in the United States entails a triumph of maybe 100 assorted players, coaches, and front office execs over approximately 3100 other folks broken up into 31 other teams. That hardly seems like much competition compared to the ACT, where only 781 students out of the 1,666,017 graduating seniors in the H.S. class of 2012 scored a perfect 36 Composite. Talk about competition!
Apply these standards to other big tests. Very few students, when being perfectly honest with themselves, imagine they might outperform hundreds of thousands of equally skilled, equally committed athletes in their sports. Imagine the pressure. But in 2013, over 475,000 took the AP English Language and Composition exam. Based on the curve, a big chunk of test takers will fail to qualify for college credit in that subject. That hurts when you think about how much college credits are worth at your average liberal arts university.
These big tests illustrate how utterly important planning in advance for incremental improvement over time is in academics. Every big test in school challenges knowledge and understanding aggregated over weeks or months. State, national, and international standardized exams demand the highest levels of mastery of years of subject matter across a variety of disciplines. How do you prep for a challenge like that in a month?
Now that we’ve begun a new school year, think very deeply about how you can help your son or daughter commit early to a plan of incremental improvement over time in each subject with an eye on the very best results on test day. What strategies that work for coaches can you employ starting now to lock in success when test day comes?
- Dedicated study times (athletes usually can’t play if they miss practice)
- Study groups (athletes train together even when they compete alone)
- Academic coaching (the better an athlete performs, the more coaches she typically has)
- Practice tests and review (scrimmages before game day make all the difference)
Think about how hard your student-athlete may work for sports success. Academic success demands–and deserves–at least that much commitment.