Column: How we balance school and sports

I would like to say that as a student-athlete, I have to combat the “dumb jock” stereotype, but everyone pretty much expects swimmers to do well in school.

Still, the demands of class can be hard to deal with in addition to swimming. At times, it can seem like we have to make a choice between school and sport. It doesn’t happen often, but when you have a big test and two swim practices in one day, the prospect of studying and getting enough sleep the night before to be functional at 6 a.m. is daunting. On those days, being a dumb jock sounds just fine.

The Mizzou Athletic Department, however, is very active in preventing student-athletes from succumbing to that mindset. That is where the Total Person Program, or TPP, comes in.

The TPP is a branch of advisers, tutors, mentors and other staff members that monitors student-athletes’ academics and helps us when we need it. They perform many functions, including setting athletes up with tutors and helping us enroll in the proper classes.

Tutors are a huge reason for the overall academic success of MU student-athletes. They keep student-athletes on top of deadlines and assignments and provide help understanding tricky concepts. As freshmen, student-athletes are required to have a tutor for every class. If you maintain a 3.0 or higher GPA freshman year, you choose whether you want tutors in years following. (I no longer have any tutors.)

The TPP makes sure MU student-athletes go to class. They send “class checkers” out to random classes to make sure athletes are attending. If someone is absent for five or more classes in a semester, he or she will be suspended from competition.

The other big academic service the TPP performs is setting up our class schedules. They negotiate the tricky issues of making sure we are taking the required amount of degree-applicable hours to remain eligible and fitting in classes around practice. As student-athletes, we do get to enroll in classes before other students, but even still it can be very difficult to fit in 12 or more hours of class around 20 hours of practice.

Through these functions, the TPP has been successful in keeping student-athletes from giving in to the dumb jock stereotype. The athletic department boasts that MU is second in the SEC in number of teams recognized for Academic Progress Rate — a metric that keeps track of the ability and retention of student-athletes in every sport, every term — trailing only Vanderbilt. The swim team is one of the best in the classroom; between the men’s and women’s swim teams, we had 18 swimmers named Scholastic All-Americans.

Even though many people expect swimmers to do fairly well academically, we face the same challenges as other athletes when it comes to balancing school and sport. The support system offered by the TPP, however, takes some of the academic burden off of student-athletes and allows us to dedicate as much energy as possible towards our sport, without becoming a dumb jock.

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