Back in 2013, there was a story going around the US volleyball community that caught my eye. A college biology professor threatened to fail a volleyball player if she missed another class to play in national championships. The player already had to miss three classes due to volleyball travel. That’s not at all uncommon during the season for athletes. The news report indicated that the school would fly the player to the competition separately to avoid her missing class again.

This recalls to mind a story from several years back. There was a team at a prominent liberal arts college in the Northeast of the US. It was not allowed to take part in the national championships because they fell during final exams week. I can’t recall the school, nor the sport, but I remember it was a big talking point at the time.

I can appreciate the academic side of these cases, especially as a former Ivy League school coach. However, I think sometimes things go a bit too far. Part of being a college/university student is the experiences you have. It’s not just about the courses you take. Competing in a national championship could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Besides, as one commentator opines, if you’re keeping up with the work and are generally a good student, I don’t see a problem with missing class.

Obviously, I have a bias, though. I’d like to hear what others think.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

    3 replies to "Volleyball over academics?"

    • Delvin

      John, you raise some interesting questions but I ask – at what point the ‘student athlete’ concept becomes ‘athlete student’? Going further – I deliberate how much we should give special treatment to our student athletes over and above regular academics who have earned the right to study not gifted it because of sporting talent?

      Whilst I’m a huge fan of the US system of collegiate sport having lived in NY for a couple of years, I can’t help but wonder that if we continue to show our athletes that their studies are always second to their sports it tells the remaining 98% of non-elite students/population that our athletes are above the rules that the rest of us follow.

      University is indeed about life experiences and perhaps the most important of these is to prepare our young people for their future lives and careers which surely doesn’t mean condoning an attitude that the athlete is above the rules and can simply pick and choose at will without the fear of consequence.

      Good debate, hope it continues,

      Coach and Father

      • John Forman

        Delvin – Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

        I definitely don’t disagree. Unfortunately for us in volleyball, we are in a situation where the issues of the big sports – football and basketball in the States – cause backlash against all collegiate sports. The vast majority of student athletes are just that – kids working toward a degree and some kind of professional career who also happen to play a competitive sport.

        The argument I would make about studies vs. sports is not that one should dominate the other. Given that for the most part athlete graduation rates are quite high, I’d say there’s ample evidence that the two elements can coexist quite reasonably. Plus, there are eligibility requirements tied to academic progress, so studies cannot be left to the side in any case. Being a student athlete is about time management. The same would be true for a student with a job or any other significant time commitment.

    • Adrien

      Hi there, just a quick comment from a different (?) perspective. My brother is a club volleyball coach in Europe. He is coaching u13 up to u17, both genders. The approach they take is different, as they are in a neighbourhood with a fairly high un-employment rate. The club and the school work hand-in-hand to ensure the success of the kids in both areas, rather than being torn between two poles. Teachers and coaches are seen as having the same goal in the end… educate happy successful citizens. Not that it works every time, but he has a few nice stories to tell…

Please share your own ideas and opinions.