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Sport and study a winning combination

05 August 2016

A balance of study and sport is proving to be a medal-winning combination, with more than half of Australia’s Olympic team for Rio 2016 also committed to tertiary education.

The AIS has been working closely with Australian University Sport (AUS) and 40 of Australia’s universities as part of the Elite Athlete Friendly University (EAFU) program, which supports student athletes to achieve their academic goals while pursuing an elite sporting career.

The EAFU program is an initiative within the Personal Excellence Strategy, which focuses on the holistic development of athletes and their wellbeing and is accessible to more than 2000 of Australia’s elite and emerging athletes.

Manager AIS Personal Excellence, Megan Fritsch, said combining sport and study was proving to be a winning combination.

“There is an evolving international trend that student athletes who are able to balance their training with education seem to be very successful at an Olympic level,” Fritsch said.

“In Beijing 2008, 46 per cent of the Australian team was made up of student athletes and they claimed 57 percent of the nation’s medals. At London 2012, 40 per cent of the team were student athletes, but they contributed to winning 63 percent of Australia’s medals.

“It’s therefore encouraging to see that 58 per cent of the athletes representing Australia in Rio are also studying and are able to balance their sporting and academic ambitions.”

While training loads for elite athletes are demanding, Fritsch said study, career or interests outside of sport could also provide perspective for student athletes. It also provides platforms to develop and enhance professional skills, helping student athletes to be accountable and resilient people in life and sport.

“The combination of study and sport seems to be positive and essential to the overall holistic development of an athlete,” Fritsch said. “It enables them to have more balance in their lives and foster relationships away from sport.

“Career planning is also a key proponent of athletes being able to transition successfully into a new phase of their lives beyond sport. This can have an impact on the pressure they experience or perceive as they pursue world class performances.

“It seems the most popular career choices tend to be courses that blend well with sport like, business, science, sports sciences, sports management and physiotherapy but there are student athletes pursuing careers in a totally different direction like ocean engineering and zoology.

“Despite the gruelling demands of training, competitions and in some cases recovery due to injury, the EAFU program enables student athletes to plan their academic requirements around their sporting commitments, which requires exceptional self-management and communications with their respective university.”

As the peak governing body for university sport in Australia, Australian University Sport (AUS) has over the past three Olympics researched the selection of student-athletes and medal winning statistics and trends. 

AUS CEO Don Knapp is delighted to see a strong representation of student-athletes on the team.

“The high number of student-athletes in the Rio team is testament to the support of elite athlete programs at Australian universities,” Knapp said.

“Many Australian universities support dual career education through scholarships which allow student-athletes to pursue elite sporting careers, complete tertiary education and maintain a healthy balance."

Kelsey Wakefield, Australia’s Water Polo goalkeeper has just completed a Biomedical Science degree at Griffith University while training for Rio, with the ultimate ambition to transition to medicine at the end of her athletic career.

Kelsey said the opportunity to balance her elite sports life with academia has been crucial.

“It helps with time-management and for a healthy life balance. I actually found it beneficial to be studying and training because I could use training as my down-time especially during exams to switch off mentally and I really enjoyed training during those periods. The same was the case for studying; it was a way to switch off from water polo and to keep my mind busy,” Kelsey said.

Read more information about the EAFU program

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