Carlene Sluberski: How to Balance Academics as a Student Athlete

Learning new strategies to stay on top of your game is extremely important as a developing athlete. But what about trying to balance life as a student athlete? That can often add a new challenge to an already full schedule. These tips can apply to someone new to athletics, those thinking about becoming an athlete, those transitioning to college, or student athletes who need extra support on how to balance their current world. Carlene Sluberski has been in unique positions while creating her wrestling career. She first competed at the United States Olympic Education Center (USOEC) where the main focus was to bring in athletes in to live, train, and compete full time. This program was located at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan. She later transferred to  finished her degree and wrestle at Brock University in Ontario, Canada. The lessons she learned from her journey has helped her understand what is required in order to fulfill her own passions and achieve her goals. Carlene is currently working on her masters degree and is a graduate assistant wrestling coach at the University of the Cumberlands. 

When does a athlete make time to prioritize academics?

There is always time. It may not be conveniently blocked off at one time, but it's there. Weekends are always good to catch up on work, but once the season starts, weekends are usually spent traveling, so any spare time should be utilized to get school work done.

While I was at the USOEC, I did not do a stellar job at balancing wrestling and school. I did not have an academic plan, and I was taking classes just so I could wrestle. I didn’t have any sort of guidance from an advisor either, so my intelligent 18 year-old self decided I could properly advise myself. Up until that point in my life, I had never had so much freedom of choice (and apparently for good reason). Naturally, all I cared about was wrestling and socializing. I was not thinking about getting a degree so I could get a job and be an adult. I’m not sure how I managed to spend 3 years at the USOEC with little achieved academically other than general credits. Someone recently described this time in my life as “the scenic route.” I don’t recommend too much of anything I did here, it was all about wrestling and very little emphasis on the academic aspect. The general mentality at USOEC was that wrestling is the top priority, and that became my mentality too. Surround yourself with people and teammates that make both wrestling and academics their priorities. 

 fEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR AT BROCK UNIVERSITY IN ONTARIO, CANADA

fEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR AT BROCK UNIVERSITY IN ONTARIO, CANADA

Tips to stay organized

Get a calendar and fill it out at the beginning of the semester. Talk to your professors or teachers ahead of time and show them you care about your studies. You will be traveling often for sport, and those relationships you build with your educators will be valuable when you have to miss assignments. If you take the time to talk to them, they will be more willing to make adjustments and work with you to help you succeed academically.

Work-life-social balance

Prioritize your time! Get the important things done first so you have free time to enjoy other social aspects of college and school. Like so many aspects of wrestling, It comes down to discipline. Know what you need to do, and come up with a plan and get it done. If you want to have free time you have to make it happen.  

I wouldn’t trade all the friends and memories I created for the world while at the USOEC. However, at that time in my life I needed A LOT more guidance and chose not to get it. Luckily for me, I transferred to Brock University and found a family in a team that I loved. I was able to save my academic life through the use of my newly acquired time management skills. Academics became a top priority, and the environment I was in reflected those values. 

How to make time for yourself so you don’t burn out from the study-athlete life?

Having a support group outside of your wrestling community can help keep you grounded. Wrestling and athletics can begin to take over all aspects of your life so balance is important. Find the types of hobbies or social actives that keep you sane and make it a part of your life. For me, it couldn't be wrestling all day everyday and I enjoyed time with friends who didn't wrestle or know much about wrestling at all. Most days I didn't want to talk about anything wrestling related at the end of the day. This gave me the mental break I needed to train at my best. 

In short, don’t do what I did the first time around. Get help as soon as you feel like you’re falling behind or lost in the shuffle because school is important! It really just takes the discipline to devote enough time to your academics. It’s all a balancing act and you have to find the strategies and resources that will help you succeed.


Carlene Sluberski is a 2x National Team Member and Junior National Champion. She was part of the USOEC program at Northern Michigan University from 2009-2012. She has her undergraduate degree in Kinesiology from Brock University where she wrestled 4 years on the team. In 2014-2015, Carlene was named Female Athlete of the Year. She is currently seeking her masters degree in teaching and is a graduate assistant for the women's wrestling team at the University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky.