If you’re a competitive gymnast, chances are you’re spending hours and hours each week in the gym. Juggling the time commitment of being a gymnast with school, homework, family life, and time with friends can be challenging. In fact, through the years we’ve gotten a lot of questions from our readers about how to balance gymnastics and school and we know how overwhelming it can be at times. So to help you juggle it all successfully, we’ve compiled some tips that we think are incredibly useful.
But before we share our tips, we want to start by sharing a popular analogy that you may have heard before. This analogy will not only help you learn how to juggle gymnastics with school, but will also help you as you transition away from gymnastics and towards other life goals such as going to college.
Prefer to listen to this blog instead of read it? Listen to the audio below:
The “Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand Story”
There’s a popular time management analogy called the “rocks, pebbles, and sand story” in which a philosophy professor fills up a jar with rocks and then asks his students if the jar is full. They say yes. Then he adds in small pebbles, gives the jar a shake so all the pebbles disperse around the big rocks, and asks his class if the jar is full. Once again they say yes. Finally he adds sand to the jar, gives it a little shake, and asks his students if the jar is full. They all agree the jar is now completely full.
The professor explains that the rocks represent the most important activities you have going on in your life such as your big goals, time with family, and your health. These are activities that fill your life with meaning and purpose. Similarly, the pebbles are activities that matter to you but, unlike the rocks, are things you could live without. They’re not necessary for you to live a fulfilling life. In contrast, the sand represents all those activities that fill up your life but have little meaning. You could easily live without these fillers.
Now what would happen if the professor decided to reverse this process and put in the sand first, followed by the pebbles, and then the rocks? While you might not believe it, it would actually be impossible for him to fit in all the rocks because the sand would occupy most of the space in the jar. So while he might have started out with the same amount of objects in both scenarios, it would actually make a difference in which order he placed them into the jar!
Why do we share this analogy with you? Because in order to balance gymnastics and school, it’s really important to have a crystal clear vision of your highest priorities (your “rocks”) and to schedule them into your life accordingly. It really does matter what things you do first in your schedule in order to fit everything in. We’ll give you some specific examples later on so you can apply this to your life, but just know that if you’re doing all the “sand” activities first, followed by the “pebbles,” you’ll find you won’t be able to fit in all your “rocks.”
So what can you do about this? Read on to hear our top tips and strategies for how to set your priorities and then implement these into your life so you can successfully juggle gymnastics with school and anything else life throws your way.
Tip 1: Track Your Activities For One Week
First of all, it’s important to know where you’re spending your time. While it might seem like you’re pressed for time and using every spare minute you have, once you start tracking what you’re actually doing you’ll realize you spend more time than you think doing unimportant things.
For example, how many hours of television do you watch a day?
How many hours do you spend texting or chatting with your friends?
If you’re on social media, how many hours do you spend on it each day?
While we’re not saying you can’t ever do these things, we’re pointing out that you might waste a lot of time doing things that are not helping you achieve your goals. Once you cut out or shorten the time you spend on these things, you’ll find you have much more free time than you thought which will help you get more of the important things in your life accomplished first.
So for the next week your task is to keep track of every activity you do throughout the day. Write it down in a notebook, journal, or planner noting how much time you spend doing each activity. This is going to be valuable information for you in making a schedule that is manageable as opposed to one in which you feel constantly overwhelmed.
Tip 2: Make A List Of Your Activities In Order Of Importance
Now that you’ve tracked your activities for the week, you can look at everything you’ve done in that week and decide which activities are helping you get closer to your goals of becoming a better gymnast and maintaining good grades and which ones are detracting from your goals.
For example, if you’re a competitive gymnast then you’re likely spending a significant amount of time at the gym. In addition to training for gymnastics, activities such as taking care of your health (enough sleep, proper nutrition), spending time with your family (family dinners, family events), going to school, and getting your homework done are all important activities around your goals. These things should be your “rocks” or your first priority, then. Write these down at the top of your list. You should have 5 or fewer “rocks” at any given time. Any more and you won’t be able to give those “rocks” the attention they need.
After your important priorities are written down, you can then write down your “pebbles” which might be things like after-school activities, volunteering your time for a good cause, spending time with friends, or drawing and listening to music. Remember, these are things in your life that make you feel good but don’t necessarily get you closer to your goals which are to get better at gymnastics and manage school with success. Write these “pebbles” down below your high priority activities.
Finally, list out your “sand” which are those things from your week that don’t add much value to your life and don’t help you get closer to your goal of getting better at gymnastics and managing school. These are things like watching tv, checking social media, watching youtube videos, playing video games, reading magazines, shopping, or texting your friends. If you’re struggling with time management, chances are you’re spending a lot of time on these filler activities. So your goal would be to either limit these activities or to add them into your day after you’ve done the other higher priority activities first.
You can use the worksheets above to list out your priorities and then create a “rocks” jar with all your important activities as a reminder of where you should be spending your time.
Tip 3: Create A Schedule For Yourself
Now that you have a list of your weekly activities written down in order of priority, you can then create a schedule for yourself. Having a schedule is one of the best ways to make sure you’re using every minute of the day to help you reach your goals.
Here’s how this process works. Start by printing out a blank weekly calendar with the hourly times listed out or use a planner if you have one. Then write in the activities you decided were high priority from the previous step and block out time for them in your calendar. In our example, this includes blocking out enough time for gymnastics practice, school, sleep (8-10 hours), and homework (the number of hours varies depending on your grade and age). Also include breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and time to shower as well as to get ready for school and bed.
Next, write in other activities that might be a priority for you that particular week such as an orthodontist appointment, physical therapy, haircut, family party, or gymnastics meet. These are things that wouldn’t regularly go on your calendar on the same day and time each week but are on your schedule for that week in particular.
After all your “rocks” are in your schedule, you can then add in your “pebbles.” These are the things you wrote down on your list that were less important than your high priority activities. Maybe you have a social event at school you want to go to, you’re involved in an after-school club, your friend is having a party, or you just love spending time reading. These activities are ones that make you feel good and add to your life by increasing your happiness and your feelings of worth.
Finally, if there’s time left (and ONLY if there’s time left) should you then add in the “sand” or the filler activities which are the activities you wrote down at the very bottom of your list. While you might think these activities make you feel good, chances are they’re not enriching your life in a meaningful way. Remember, these include things like watching television, going on social media, or gossiping with friends and should only be included in your schedule in those pockets of time that are left over after your “rocks” and “pebbles” have been scheduled in.
If you create your schedule this way, chances are you’ll still get to do everything you like to do. But the difference is that if you don’t get to do the things that are at the bottom of your list you’ll at least have completed all the meaningful things in your life that help you get closer to your goal of getting better at gymnastics and being successful in school. On the flip side, if you spend all your time focusing on the less meaningful activities you might fall behind in school, lose sight of your big goals, be constantly pressed for time, and be sleep-deprived.
Tip 4: Get Yourself Organized
One way to juggle your gymnastics life with school life is to get and stay organized. While having good organizational skills might not come naturally to you, this is something you can get better at with practice.
In the previous tip we talked about creating a weekly schedule where you define how each minute is spent. But another great way to get organized is to create a monthly calendar where you write down things such as all your meets in that month, any school projects that are due, any after-school activities or social events that are not normally on your regular schedule, and anything else that demands your time that month.
Hang this monthly calendar in your room or keep it at your desk where you can see everything on it at once. This helps you prepare for upcoming events and gives you a glance at which days and weeks you’ll have less time so you can plan out your weekly schedule more efficiently. Having the bigger picture of your month can be really helpful in learning how to plan ahead for school projects and other activities that demand your time.
In addition, it’s important to stay organized with your schoolwork. You should have a system for what to do with your school papers when you come home from school. Is there a place on your desk where you keep upcoming projects? Do you have a bulletin board where you hang your important schoolwork? Do you hand your school notices to your parents or does your family have a hub where you put all of your school papers?
Keeping your folders and desk neat and organized will help you be more efficient when you go to do your work. Your goal is to create a system that works for you so you know where everything is and you have a plan for papers when they come in.
Finally, while it’s not a method of organization, per say, making your bed everyday and keeping your room neat can help you feel more organized. Plus you’ll start the day with a sense of accomplishment. While making your bed might not be your favorite activity and you might even be one to leave it unmade, studies have actually shown that making your bed in the morning increases your productivity for the entire day! So the next time your parents tell you to make your bed, instead of rolling your eyes, say “thank you” to them for reminding you to do something that will help you be more successful!
Tip 5: Work Smarter
To balance everything in your life you’re going to have to work smarter. For one, don’t procrastinate (which means not leaving something until later when you could get it done right now). Get homework assignments done as soon as possible instead of waiting until the night before they’re due. We know how easy it is to wait, especially when you feel like you have lots of time to complete the assignment. But if you wait until the night before a school project is due to complete it, chances are you’ll be up late, get little sleep, and feel tired in gymnastics practice the next day. That’s never a good situation and one you can completely avoid if you plan ahead.
Opt instead to do your assignments a little bit each day or get as much as possible done when you have some free time in advance. Whenever you can get ahead, get ahead. If you have a few free hours on the weekend, use them on your schoolwork.
One way we like to work smarter is to do something called the pomodoro technique. This is a time management technique developed to increase productivity and can really help you with your school work or big projects. Here’s how this method works:
-Decide which assignment you’re working on.
-Set a timer for 25 minutes and work as hard as you can on your assignment until the timer goes off.
-Take a 5 minute break. During this break you can do something fun like text a friend, get up and dance around, or anything else that feels good.
-Repeat this technique (25 minutes on, 5 minutes off) four times through and then take a longer 30 minute break.
This technique works because you put forth focused bursts of effort and then give yourself a quick break to recharge. If you’ve never done something like this then try it on your next big project or challenging homework. You’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish using this simple technique.
Another way to work smarter is to use small pockets of time to get things done. Do some of your homework on the bus or on the car ride to and from school/gym. If you’re traveling to a meet that’s far away, use that time to do school work. If you have a free period at school get as much work done as you can instead of socializing with your friends. Try to use every free minute during the day to your advantage. This will help you free up more time in your day and help you feel less overwhelmed.
Tip 6: Have A Consistent Bedtime
If you’re tired, you’ll be less productive. One of the best things you can do to ensure you stay healthy and get the rest you need is to go to sleep every night at the same time. Without proper rest, you’ll have no energy for practice. You’ll be sluggish at your meets. You might even fall asleep when doing your homework or make silly errors on your exams. Getting rest is one of those big “rocks” that is essential for your wellbeing and is important enough for us to mention it a second time!
While you might be tempted to stay up later on the weekend, it’s better to keep your same bedtime (and wake up time) even on the weekend. This news might shock you because it’s possible you sleep in late over the weekend to catch up on rest. But if you’re taking care of yourself during the week and using your hours effectively then you won’t end the week feeling sleep deprived. Also, going to sleep at the same time each night helps your body function at its best which will help you be a better gymnast and do better in school.
Juggling the demands of both gymnastics and school can be tough unless you prioritize your goals and create a schedule that is efficient. Hopefully you learned that with a little pre-planning and smart choices you can structure your schedule in a way that makes everything feel less overwhelming. Keeping yourself organized is a great way to be more efficient with your time and to accomplish big tasks before they’re due. Also, learning how to work smarter so that you can utilize small pockets of time to get work done will help you manage your time better and free up more time for other activities. Finally, keeping a consistent bedtime will help you recharge and stay healthy. At the end of the day it’s important to remember to schedule in your “rocks” first, followed by your “pebbles,” and then your “sand.”