What Students Need For High-Level Academic Achievement?

High-Level Olympic Achievement

It takes focus to achieve at a high level.  Whether students want to excel in sports, arts, or academics, they need to concentrate on their goals and commit to the steps that lead to success. I keep thinking of the Citibank commercial during the Olympics featuring athletes saying:
“Take a day off?  I don’t even take a morning off.” “I haven’t ordered dessert in two years.” “You know the best selling book everyone loves?  I haven’t read it” “I haven’t watched tv since last summer.  Hey, I’ve been busy.”
We recognize the discipline required for an athlete to train and perform at an Olympic level.  They must guard their time and adhere to a long-term plan for success.  It’s not much different from working on a plan for academics leading to successful college admission.

My High-Level Academic Achievement

I’m clearly not an Olympic athlete, but I am very competitive and I excelled in academic and extracurricular activities in high school.  I qualified for nationals in Lincoln-Douglas debate, was head of the morning announcements, captain of the math team, earned a 5 on the AP Calculus exam, and was captain of the mock trial team, in addition to earning top grades, helping with the family business, and serving in my community.  Not unlike the athletes in the commercial, I made decisions that made me successful.
  • Spent long weekends at speech tournaments
  • Stayed up late researching and writing cases
  • Made time for homework, every time
  • Committed six hours every Sunday to studying for AP Calculus
I was motivated by competition in some cases.  (I hate to lose.)  But in other situations, I was motivated by a desire to learn and achieve. My commitment didn’t start at the end of my junior year when I realized I would soon be filling out college applications and it didn’t end when I enrolled in college.

What Are Students Willing To Give Up For High-Level Academic Achievement?

As I work with high school juniors and seniors I see a lot of students who want something for nothing.  They want better SAT scores, but aren’t willing to spend time studying.  They want an impressive sounding list of activities and awards, but don’t want to take time away from video games, parties, or friends to do something. They want to get into particular universities, but just recently made the decision to commit time to academics.  In other words, they want to sleep late, eat dessert, sit on the couch, and make it to the Olympics.

Coaching For Success

Some students are naturally drawn towards academic success as I was in high school.  Others need help.  Every Olympic athlete had a coach, or team of coaches, in order to reach the highest level in their sport.  As parents, we can help coach our children towards greater academic achievement.
  • Are you coaching habits not just results?  Good grades with poor work habits won’t help when classes get harder.  Form and technique apply to academics too.
  • Where are you spending your money?  I’ve met families who pay for athletic coaching, popular fashion, and cars for their high school kids and tell me they can’t afford SAT prep class.
  • Do you demonstrate that success comes with sacrifice?  Sometimes kids don’t put two and two together.  They don’t connect your long hours at work with professional and financial success.  They don’t attribute their own success in sports, music, art, school, or extracurricular activities to the time and effort they invested over the years.
  • Where is the time going?  Help your teen track and evaluate their time for an entire week. Outside of school what percentage goes to homework, studying that isn’t assigned work, activities, physical fitness, community service, work, religious activities, family time, and friends?  Does the amount of time spent on each category reflect your priorities and values as a parent?
High-level academic achievement is no accident.  It is the result of years of sacrifice and commitment; but just like a trip to the Olympics, it has its rewards.

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