For teens with Olympic or NCAA athletic dreams, a growing number of sports-oriented high schools are offering the opportunity to focus on physical training and practice while continuing to pursue their education.
These facilities, often referred to as sports academies, differ considerably, with some offering higher quality academics than others, says Karen Gross, former university president and parent of a ski academy graduate. They include boarding schools that make training part of the daily routine; sports-oriented day schools; hybrid schools that combine physical and digital education; and online platforms only.
Many have significant accomplishments in the sports world. For example, Vermont’s Burke Mountain Academy, which focuses on ski racing, produced 36 Olympians, seven of whom competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
âSports-related high schools have tremendous value for the right student,â Gross says. âThis last caveat is essential. Sports academies are not suitable for all young people.
Interest in sports schools is growing
At the same time, education experts claim that the space is getting bigger. “Over the past year we have seen explosive growth” in families seeking a non-traditional educational option for their student-athletes, Betty Norton, chair of education for Xceed Preparatory Academy, a network of schools, wrote in an email.
Xceed schools have a hybrid model that allows students to work in class through a virtual platform and meet teachers on campus or online. Flexible hours and personalized learning plans give students the flexibility to work at their own pace, during their free time, Norton explains.
Xceed has grown its network by adding athletic-focused high schools such as the DME Academy in Daytona Beach, Florida; the OTE Academy in Atlanta, Georgia; and Oakmoor Hockey Academy in Urbandale, Iowa, in recent months.
Xceed is not the only organization experiencing growth. This year, IMG Academy, a sports boarding school in Bradenton, Florida, welcomed its highest number of registrations in the school’s 40-year history. Over the decades, the academy has developed an integrated approach to academics, athletics and performance, wrote Tim Pernetti, IMG’s COO, in an email.
âThe growth comes from our continued investment in our academic and athletic offerings, as well as the expansion of our state-of-the-art facilities,â said Pernetti. “Beyond that, growth is a by-product of the continued success of our current students, as well as our alumni.”
With a 600-acre campus, IMG has more than 1,200 Grades 6 to 12 student-athletes and graduates from 49 US states and over 60 countries. Between 2018 and 2020, 44% of IMG students attended college with NCAA Division I athletics, Pernetti says, and 92% overall attended college. IMG says it produced more NFL players on the 2021 launch weekend rosters than any other high school in America.
A trainer weighs
Teens who seek an elite-level ranking – an achievement that often includes international travel – tend to have complicated lifestyles that aren’t always conducive to the traditional high school schedule. They may need to train for several hours a day, travel to regional or international competitions, and schedule time to adjust to different time zones in order to compete effectively. This can be difficult in traditional high schools which have rules governing what defines an “excused absence”. The missing school for a world fencing competition in Sochi, Russia may not be covered.
âTo do well nationally and internationally, support needs to be at multiple levels, from schools to parents to coaches,â says Dariusz Gilman, a former Polish national saber champion who owns the Capital Fencing Academy, a club of private fencing in North Bethesda, Maryland. .
Gilman says there are no sports schools that focus solely on fencing and that his students attend public or private high schools. Many have done fencing and won medals in international competitions and, after graduating, went to fencing for schools such as Harvard, Yale, Notre Dame, and the University of Pennsylvania.
Reaching this elite level often meant missing school for up to 30 days a year. For these students, Gilman advises families to simply ask their school for flexibility. Administrators often understand that a student who is doing well in their chosen sport may need accommodations, he says, whether it’s an extra day for homework or postponing a test. after an international trip.
Gilman also encourages students to master time management, whether it’s taking an exam at the fencing club before a private lesson or knowing how to acclimate to a time zone before a competition.
âIt’s good to be busy, but the key is to be well organized,â says Gilman.
What does academic flexibility look like?
Xceed provides students with a learning environment built around a student-athlete’s schedule. For example, that could mean a later start time because hockey practice starts at 4:30 a.m. or tennis lessons start at 10 a.m., Norton says.
“There are no school bells, no fixed class times,” she says. âStudents work alongside certified teachers to get the help and support they need when they need it, and regularly engage in conversations, breakout sessions, or plan an individual lesson or review with their teacher. ”
They also have the option to adjust the course load according to their strengths and weaknesses, such as taking a math class in the spring because it is more difficult for them and they have a light travel schedule, and take science in the fall because it comes naturally to them and they will have more trips for their sport.
A mother’s point of view
Gross, the former college president who sent her child to a ski academy for high school decades ago, says she didn’t want him “to be 40 and says, ‘I could have. , I should have and I did not “.
âI wanted him to see if he could and should continue to ski competitively or if he could essentially ‘ski’ outside of himself,â Gross says.
âAdolescence is tough in all circumstances,â she says. âSports academies offer a lot to students, and what they lack academically they can replace if necessary. But, you can’t be 50 and ask yourself: could I have been a professional athlete? Could I have participated in the Olympic Games? Could I have been national champion?
So, does Gross recommend the sports academy route for all aspiring athletes? No.
âEvaluate the athletic academy, then think long and hard about your own child’s strengths, weaknesses and character,â says Gross. âIt’s about finding a fit and match. There is no general rule.
The choice âhas to be something the student wants, not the parent,â Gross says. “If a parent pushes their children to a sports academy to make the child achieve what he never couldâ¦ it is too much pressure on the child.”
Gross got a second home near his child’s sports academy, so he could have a familiar place, bring friends, and have homemade meals.
Ultimately, his son grew up to be a college professor, but he still needs speed. He no longer runs on skis, she said. Now he races motorcycles.
Investigate private high schools for sport
Education experts say families interested in sports academies should do your research first. Here are several well-known schools: