As a parent, coach, or educator, you probably notice that many student-athletes are driven on the field but struggle academically. You may be wondering, what can I do to help? Christian Buck’s new book, The Sport of School, offers a proven solution–take what you know about your child’s athletic performance and apply it to the classroom.
Packed with case studies, this order of school gives parents, coaches, and educators the tools they need to motivate each type of student. You’ll learn what factors push students to win, how to shift students’ perceptions of school and grades, and why visualizing victory makes all the difference both on and off the field.
Drew Applebaum: Hey listeners, my name is Drew Applebaum and I’m excited to be here today with Christian Buck, author of The Sport of School: Help Your Student-Athlete Win in the Classroom. Christian, thank you for joining and welcome to the Author Hour podcast.
Christian K. Buck: Thanks so much for having me, appreciate it.
Drew Applebaum: Let’s kick this off, can you give us a rundown of your professional background?
Christian K. Buck: Sure, I was on the floor of the American stock exchange for 11 years, I was brokering and trading equity derivatives and left that world after 9/11 because it really wasn’t congruent with how I wanted to live my life. So, I left and got my Masters in Sports Psychology in 2006 and since then, I have been working with students and athletes and teams and executives in improving their performance with an undertone of sports psychology.
Drew Applebaum: Was there an inspiration for the book and why was now the time to write it?
Christian K. Buck: Yeah, the inspiration and “why now,” there are two different things. Inspiration was when I was coaching, coming out of graduate school and one of the guys on the team was getting recruited by Yale, and he had pretty decent grades but they weren’t good enough to get through admissions at Yale. It reminded me of when I was in high school for the first three years, my parents were of the mind of be a good kid and get good grades but more importantly, be a good kid.
My twin brother and I ran with that one, and after three years I had accumulated a 2.8 GPA or an 83 average. One of the small schools in division three in Ohio was recruiting me and talking to the dean of admissions, and he told my college counselor, “Don’t let him waste the money on the application.”
I wrote him a letter and said, “I’m going to get into your school, I’m going to get my grades up,” and I went from 2.8 to a 3.8. Going back to the athlete that I was coaching, it reminded me that we can do it if we put a little more time in and a little more focus and a little more effort–something that as athletes, we all understand.
The inspiration was when I started, the Sport of School Academy was to help more student-athletes raise their grades. Very similar to the way I did, because I knew it wasn’t about IQ or intellect but about effort and focus and determination. After doing that for say five, six, seven years, I started to realize, this really works. The average student at that time came to me with a 2.8 GPA and left with a 3.5.
That could have been as quick as one quarter. Doing it for a couple of more years now, I realized that I can only help one person at a time, so the inspiration for the book or “why now”, to answer that question, I’m at a point where I can only help so many kids during the week or the month or the year, but if I can get a book out to the parents, teachers or coaches of more students, obviously, then I can help more and more kids figure out how to be successful with a much bigger impact and in a greater way. It’s really a vehicle to teach parents, for the most part, what I know–what I learned about helping student-athletes raise their grades.
Drew Applebaum: Can you give us a little bit of background about the demand that student-athletes have on the field? Because I don’t think a lot of people know about how time-consuming being a student-athlete can be.
Christian K. Buck: Sure, if you’re a parent of maybe an eighth-grader or to high school, you start to get a really clear picture. Your summers are now driving around, and you have club teams and you have club tournaments and there is a recruiting aspect to it. Then you have what the individual goes through just for their home team sport of practice–if you’re a swimmer, you’re practicing, swimming every morning and then you might go in the afternoon. Practices for football are notorious for going four or five hours, you have to grind when you’re out there and then you got to get home at 8:00 and start doing work.
I talk to a lot of my student-athletes about time and how to use it wisely because if you had one class, could you get an A in it? Well yeah, if I have one class and that is all I focused on, sure. Well, can I do it for five classes? Maybe, but now it becomes a time issue.
The pressure or the time commitment becomes a big deal and the pressure to exceed at a high level depending on what type of sport or what level you’re playing on is going to change how you go about those daily routines. Then is there time left over for school?
My goal is to get them to treat school like a sport and athletes love a challenge, athletes love discipline, athletes love getting better. Applying that same attitude towards school as well as college, as well as their sport, because coming out of college or high school, they’re going to be ingrained with the habits that are going to help them succeed.
Drew Applebaum: Now, you put together a program for athletes to approach education, the sport of school mindset, just like they would approach their sport. Because you’re very honest about it. Most student-athletes don’t make it as professional athletes. Can you talk about some of the numbers behind athletes who actually go pro and make a career around it?
Christian K. Buck: Yeah, it’s honest, in that it’s just statistical, it’s quantifiable. I think it’s less than 3% of high school football players play in college, and then it’s less than 1% that go from college to the pros. That’s football, which is a big pastime in the US anyway and there are a lot of opportunities to play.
Well, what if you’re a fencer or if you are in the dance team? You just don’t have those opportunities as much. So, if you’re in what’s called a second-tier sport–soccer, lacrosse, not basketball, baseball, football, especially where the big contracts, big money go into the college realm, what’s the plan?
You can put all this time in, and they love their sport, and I get it, but it’s equally as important and maybe even more, to get smarter, to work harder on your grades, and to graduate from a good school.
Drew Applebaum: Now, how does the sports world and the techniques you learned there translate into school?
Christian K. Buck: That came about when I was working with one of my clients who was a real hard worker. He would get there early, he would stay late, he would go to the gym, he would work hard in the offseason and so it was already in him to push and to practice and to excel at a higher level.
When we decided that, okay, what if we just use that mindset and applied it to everything you do? I’ve done this with college students, where we decided that the team that I worked with, they were 2 and 14, the year before I started working with them, and we focused not on skill but on effort, and working as hard as you can in the weight room, on the field, and then in the classroom. They have the highest GPA of most schools in their sport nationwide.
It became this mindset of–we’re just going to outwork you, from the sports component to being a student it is another realm to perform–what I call the have it all or baller. The guy or girl, that just works hard and has good grades and works hard on the field. It’s that mindset where focus and discipline and drive and determination, all those things that make you a good athlete easily can make you a good student.
We, for the most part, just don’t see it that way, we think of school as a chore.
School as an Opportunity
Drew Applebaum: What are some characteristics that make a great athlete, that student-athletes can use and apply those characteristics in the classroom?
Christian K. Buck: Sure, if we were to ask most student-athletes, “Why do you love or what’s the difference between working hard in sports versus working hard in school?” I think the answer is that it’s more fun.
Drew Applebaum: It’s true.
Christian K. Buck: Honestly, I think that’s a legitimate answer, but when they see school as a chore, it is a chore. It’s something like make your bed, eat your peas, and do your homework. It’s not theirs. It’s not their drive, it’s just society’s opinion of what we should be doing. We have all grown up with that idea that it’s school–you have to go to school and learn things that you don’t necessarily want to learn.
If we can change school, to see it as an opportunity, to apply what’s already in us, working hard, discipline, focus, and then putting those into play, then school becomes really enjoyable, then school is yours, you see it as a stepping stone to learning and creating habits and routines that are going to set you up for life.
Drew Applebaum: What are some ways to empathize with your child and to understand their needs and motivations so they could start their Sport of School plan?
Christian K. Buck: The key to the book is that we have to figure out, “What do they want?” Not, “What do we want?” Even what we want for them, well, we know what we want for them. But what do they want?
The honest answer could be to be left alone. I want to be left alone and that’s okay, it doesn’t necessarily mean helpful, but it’s honest. If we say okay, well, that’s the case, then their own personal vision is the important part.
Once they have their own personal vision of what they want to do and are what I call being on autopilot, it’s because they’ve decided it’s a good idea. If we can empathize with where they are and then say okay, you’re not meeting your potential–I hear it a lot, “They could be doing so much better.”
Okay, well why not? What is holding them back? If it’s a chore, it makes sense. The example that I use is, if your parents are having people over for a party and they ask you to clean up the kitchen and the family room, you’re going to not put the most amount of effort into it but if you’re having 10 of your friends over, you might do it and make it spotless.
The difference between those things is in one scenario, it’s a chore, and the other one it’s something that you want to do. In order to empathize with that, we have to say, okay, well, what’s going to change in order for them to want to do it?
One of the things that I suggest is going to college campuses and pretty college campuses, like Georgetown or Boston College. There’s so many of them, but a really nice place with maybe a big football team or big basketball games, that they say, “I want to do that for four years.” We all agree or understand that, but to get in that mindset of realizing that’s what’s going to start it rather than you have to study tonight. It just becomes a chore.
Drew Applebaum: Now is every student-athlete the same and this is a one size fits all method or are there different and specific student-athlete types?
Christian K. Buck: No, there are definitely different athlete types. I came up with five different types that I learned over five or six years of working with over 100 student-athletes. The five different types that I have come up with are the workhorse, the rookie, the spectator, the natural talent, and the intellectual.
The workhorse we sort of spoke about, it is the one where you can see they work hard, they understand work ethic, they already have it in them.
The second is the rookie, who honestly or earnestly wants to do well and that just don’t know what that means. They don’t know the rules that their B-minus average isn’t going to get them to Harvard. They just don’t understand that yet and that’s okay. They have to learn it at some point.
The spectator is someone who doesn’t care if they fail and they don’t care if they succeed. They are just watching the game from the sidelines, and they’re not really involved. What we talk about with them is, “What is your personal vision?” Because right then at that point they don’t have one.
The natural talent is one of the most interesting ones. These are the ones that are just gifted on the field and they’re out there doing what looks like work but they’re not. They’re playing, they’re having fun, they’re being creative, it is not hard. So, if you were to try to get a natural talent to do math when they are not good at math, they don’t get it. They’ve never put in the work like the rest of us have, because they are so gifted in what they do.
The intellectual deals with some other issues of being a perfectionist and grades coming first before other sports. They will do whatever it takes to get the best grades possible and they can get a little too anxious about bad grades, and too perfectionistic about lowering the bar and being okay with not getting a 100. So, it is a little bit different with the intellectual.
What Do You Want?
Drew Applebaum: Now besides visiting a school as you mentioned and really feeling the atmosphere and wanting to be there, what is the best way to create that personal vision for college for your student-athlete child?
Christian K. Buck: I work on this with adults who are 60 years old to answer the question, “What do you want?” It is not an easy answer. I would say most people I work with don’t know that answer. I didn’t know what I wanted until I was about 35, so I get it. If you ask your students, “What do you want?” They might say, “I want to be left alone,” and that’s fine.
If you ask, “If you could envision any life in the college realm, what would you want?” Start to use that vision to both of your advantages. You start to create an image and an idea. That’s why I like going to campuses because it instantly gives you images. Adolescents live in ideals, not experience. So, if we give them more and more experience, whether it is going to a camp for a couple of days and seeing more campuses or when you are driving on a vacation and you stop in to see a campus. The more that we can create that personal vision of what they want, and they can see it, that is going to increase motivation.
Drew Applebaum: Does this also help the student’s perception of what they are capable of? Because you mention in the book that this is paramount.
Christian K. Buck: Yes. I will give you a story–one of my clients came to me after two years of an 83, so that is a 2.8 GPA, and we were working for maybe four months. I said something like, “Can you get all A’s?” He said, “No. I was just telling my parents I am not an A student. I am a B student,” so his perception of himself was that he was a B student. I said, “You are not a B student. You are an A student, you just put in B effort.”
You could see it hit him and he ended up going from that 83 to a 94, the 3.9 because he just focused on the effort and not on how he saw himself. We put these limitations on ourselves and we all do this about how much money we’re going to make, or what school we can go to, the girl or guy that we can date. These limitations are self-created.
What I do is identify that limitation, remove it, and see how far they can excel. One of the examples that I use with my clients is that I use to scale of one to 10 a lot and I ask them, “If you worked at a 10, what do you think your grades would be?” And one of my girls said, “100” and I said, “No.”
The real answer is if you went all out, we don’t know, but the important part of that is before that conversation they had some idea that they couldn’t do it. “I am not an A student, I can’t get all A’s. It’s not possible.” Well, if we just put in all the effort that you could into school, what could you get? I don’t know, but let’s find out because the funny thing is it is really not about grades. It is about effort and focus and drive and personal vision and learning these things in high school, rather than someday when you are 35 like I did.
Drew Applebaum: Now you’re a clear pro but for readers and parents, how should they discuss with their child when there’s evidence of a problem or an issue that’s holding them back from reaching their true potential?
Christian K. Buck: That’s a tough question because it varies so much with each person. I would say that the big thing would be to empathize and to not start a conversation and asking them what they want if they are having a hard time. I am ruling out disorders and anxiety disorders, ADD, things that are outside of my scope. If you can get them to do it once–just for one quiz, go get a 100 on it. Let’s just see what happens and reward the effort.
It is not about the grade it is about the effort. What I find is that they get a taste of what that feels like and then they want another 100, and then they want another one, and it becomes this self-fulfilling prophecy because that is the autopilot. We’re helping them focus on effort, not grades and that will work itself out on their own. They’ll figure that part out.
Drew Applebaum: What is the hardest? If you want to give us maybe a high with someone you’ve worked with and a low with someone you work with and the adversity and what you have learned from that situation for any student-athlete that you’ve worked with recently.
Christian K. Buck: Oh sure, I had one student go from a 1.9 to a 4.0. Another one from a 2.2 to a 4.0. Another one from an 83 to a 96. In all of those scenarios, it was removing the cap of what they were capable of and then just focusing on the effort, rewarding the effort, as well as putting in the personal vision.
So, one of my clients is very, very smart. His family is very, very smart. He was more defiant than anything and we started to talk about what he wanted.
We actually took a trip to visit a couple of colleges near him that are very good schools. We drove out of there and I said, “Doesn’t it bother you that they don’t think you’re good enough?” He said, “Yeah.” So, two years later, he went from a 2.2 to a 4.0 and he actually went to one of those schools. He got recruited by them and went to one of those schools. So, it was a nice way to wrap up his whole approach to school and where the catalyst was.
One of the lower points–this is not necessarily a low point, but it didn’t work. After working together for a couple of months, he said, “You know, I hear what you are saying. I’m just not ready for it,” and I thought that was a fair point. I also know that he’ll do all right because he knew it. He knew that for him he likes to sleep more than studying and so he would go to bed at 9:00 and that was it.
If he had to study or do homework, that wasn’t part of the deal after football practice. If he had an hour and a half to do it that was all he had. I appreciated his honesty in that and it was a good answer even though I couldn’t help him. I know someday–I call them knowledge grenades–it is going to go off one day where he says, “Oh I get it. I know what he was talking about now.”
Drew Applebaum: Yeah, absolutely. There are always lessons learned and I am sure you left something in him and then he will wake one day and want to see that other side of not just sports but also the classroom. Christian, let me just tell you something: writing a book especially like this one, which is going to help so many parents and student-athletes out there is no small feat. So, congratulations on finishing your book.
Christian K. Buck: Oh, thank you so much. I appreciate that.
Drew Applebaum: If readers could take away one thing from the book, what would you like it to be?
Christian K. Buck: I’d like it to be that every student-athlete can see themselves in a good light and be proud of the effort they put into school. It is not necessarily about the grades but about the behaviors they use every day to get better, to improve, and whatever the grade is, is the grade. As long as they’re working hard. If we can inspire them to do that they’re going to be set for success.
I believe that success comes down to three things–work ethic, the ability to solve problems, and intellectual curiosity.
I really feel that if we put in the things that are in this book, they’ll grab on to those three things and be successful long term. No matter where you are, for example, one of my clients started with a 3.4 and ended with a 4.2, another one like I said, started with a 1.9, and then ended up with a 4.0. It doesn’t matter where you start–everyone can do it. I think we can do it as adults as well. They are just applying it to school in this scenario.
There is hope and it’s not about yelling louder and having more fights and making them do it, but a different approach where you’re more of their coach, as a supporter in helping them grow into getting what they want.
Drew Applebaum: Christian, this has been a pleasure and I am so excited for people to check out this book. Everyone, the book is called, The Sport of School, and you could find it on Amazon. Besides checking out the book, Christian, where can people find you?
Christian K. Buck: christianbuck.com or on Twitter @cbuckconsulting. I think those are the two best ways and there is a Sport of School Facebook page as well.
Drew Applebaum: Great, Christian thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Christian K. Buck: Thanks so much.