Learning Skill Services Learning Skills Services

Western Athletes

What does it take to be a good student? Success in academics, much like success in sports, depends on characteristics like dedication, discipline, and drive. A strategic student, like a smart athlete, thinks about the best way to achieve a goal and develops a realistic plan. Involvement in athletics means less time and energy than the average student to devote to academics, so a strategic approach to school is especially important. Here are some learning strategies that can help:


As the level of competition rises, coaches play an increasingly important role in helping athletes perform at their maximum potential. When it comes to education, university is the "big leagues," and SDC's Learning Skills Counsellors are like coaches who can help students achieve their academic best.

Know Where the Learning Resources Are and Use Them - get to know your professors and tutorial assistants. Find out if your courses offer help centres. Check out SDC's Learning Skills Services for presentations, drop-in help, individual counselling, self-help resources, and on-line services: make the development of your thinking skills a priority.


Just as how athletes train day-to-day affects their performance in sports, what students do day-to-day is critical to their performance in courses:

Attend All Classes - a serious athlete wouldn't miss practices, and a strategic student wouldn't miss the learning opportunity provided by classes. Maximize your learning by going to class prepared: do the readings and/or problem sets in advance.

Establish a Weekly Routine - include time for coursework, tutorials and labs, practice times, game (and travel) times, and free time. Spend time on every course each week. Drop by SDC, Room 4100 WSS, for free weekly planners and term calendars.

Use Small Blocks of Time - a lot of good work can be done in those one or two hours between classes, before practice, or on the bus traveling to out-of-town competitions: e.g. review class notes, do a few problems, read some text pages, jot down ideas for an essay.

Use a Dayplanner - keep track of assignments, labs, exams, team meetings, and competitions. Anticipate crunch times and plan ahead accordingly.

Prioritize Academic, Athletic, and Other Responsibilities - not enough time to do everything thoroughly? Put your greatest effort where it counts the most. For example, spend more time studying for the exam worth 25% than the quiz worth 3%.


Good athletes not only put in the time, but know the types of training that will yield the best results. Successful students know that regular work on each course is just the start; knowing what to do and when to do it lead to quality time:

Learn Now! Build a Strong Knowledge Base - don't understand readings, lectures, or problems? Don't wait until just before a test to learn - see the professor or TA, speak with a classmate, or drop by SDC's Learning Help Centre as soon as possible. Take the initiative: ask questions and persevere day-by-day until you understand.

See How Information is Interrelated - pay attention to titles, headings, and subheadings on course outlines and in textbooks: a sense of the "big picture" helps make course material manageable and the details under them more meaningful.

Understanding Isn't Enough: Use Memory Strategies - after a concept is understood, ask, "How will I remember it?" Logic, meaningful associations, examples, mnemonics, rehearsal, and self testing are some ways of strengthening memory.

Be An Active Listener and Notetaker - don't be passive in class. Approach classroom learning in the same way that you would approach a competition. Be focused, and intend to leave the class with your goal accomplished: quality notes from which to study later.

Review Your Notes Briefly After Class - a short (10-20 min.) and active review of lecture notes soon after class is a remarkably effective learning strategy. Without this review, forgetting occurs quickly. Reinforce the information while it's fresh in your mind.

Set Small Achievable Study Goals - avoid the marathon approach to academics. Two or more hours available for coursework? Instead of planning to read for hours on end or work on an essay from dawn to dusk, set academic goals you can achieve in about 45 minutes. For example, read the first 10 pages of the economics chapter or work on five physics problems. After each 45 minute block, take a brief break and decide if you'll continue on that course for another 45 minutes or switch to another course. This structured approach helps to monitor concentration and eliminate procrastination.


Dedicated athletes work hard to be ready on game day or for that major competition. In the academic arena, performance on exams and tests demonstrates if students have the skills and knowledge expected in the course:

Self-Test Regularly - no matter how well course material is understood, some forgetting will occur. Self-test by recalling key information from memory, doing practice exams, teaching one another in groups, etc. Consider organizing a study group on the team bus.

Prepare Psychologically and Physically - practice self-talk and visual imagery that help to build confidence and prepare for tests and exams. Keep stress in check with proper sleep, nutrition, and exercise.

Plan How to Write Tests - have an exam-writing plan that includes such things as reading instructions carefully, budgeting time according to marks, and doing less difficult questions first to build confidence. Know the strategies for different test formats; SDC's Learning Skills Services provides information on writing multiple-choice tests and essay tests.


Some student athletes find that difficulties arise when their sport season ends. The weekly schedule changes dramatically - no more daily practices, no more weekend competitions, etc. Without this structure in their lives, athletes may feel at a loss and let things go. Minimize these difficulties by being ready for the change and establishing a new routine that includes some ongoing practice time in a sport or an exercise regimen.