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Education and sports must go hand in hand

How much is the top sport result more important than education? Does the world class sport inhibit education and vice versa? How difficult is it to combine sport and school? What can one do with all those medals when you turn 25?

After swimming I also started playing basketball. Soon I reached the first team and played in the Yugoslav First Federal Basketball League. Then, being an excellent student, in the first grade of high school I was asked to choose between education and professional sport. Unlike today, at that time there were no specialised (primary or secondary) schools nor faculties for athletes, that were organised based on the dynamics of different trainings, competitions, and the overall lifestyle of a professional athlete, so I needed to train and study at the same time. That’s why I was unable to combine my education and sport. I needed to choose one or the other, and to make that decision at the age of 15. Without any doubt, I chose education over sport. From that moment, everything was different during my trainings. I spent more time on the bench than in the first team. I couldn’t believe what was happening, but I guess that was the way it worked…

Today I’m standing next to the pool and am thinking: What would have happened if I had chosen the life of a professional athlete? What would have happened if I had injured myself? Probably they would have immediately found my replacement (as it usually happens with any professional athlete) if I hadn’t recovered quickly enough and got back in shape. On the other hand, maybe I would have been among the top European or world basketball players, won the Olympic medal, who knows…

What I am sure of is that I had made the right decision. Today I would let everyone know, just like I do with my kids, how important education is, and that it is an investment in yourself and the future. That you need to learn for yourself and broaden your horizons, and not for someone else or your mum and dad. That the education doesn’t stop with a sound of the school bell or passing your exam. Faculty degree is in a way an entry ticket for the “big game” of life, but it doesn’t guarantee you front row seats. However, I would definitely like to add that today sports and education must go hand in hand.

Yes, it is possible to be a professional athlete with a “book in your hands”. It is difficult but doable. Top athletes, who also managed to graduate, benefited from sport as it helped them progress in their careers and broaden their horizons after they ended their sports careers. Statistics say that in Serbia back in the 70s and 80s, basketball players were the ones with most faculty degrees. Today, the chart is a bit different as the water polo players are in the lead, followed by volleyball players, rowers, swimmers, and other mostly individual sports athletes.

Sport is a school of its own. It also educates an individual to the extent that sometimes you put the interests of others in front your own. You become more disciplined and responsible than your peers. That’s why I like to test 13 to 14-year old swimmers, when they swim very hard series and require a lot of physical effort. Usually those are quick general knowledge questions: what’s the capital of Italy, basic mathematical operations, name a river beginning with D, or a singer beginning with M, etc. I often remain speechless when I get no correct answers or when they are so wrong that they are not even funny anymore.

Professional career of any athlete doesn’t last long. That’s why it is important that the athlete gets some education during his/her career, as you will need to answer one important question “what next?”. How can I adapt to an 8 hour long working time, where I require more mental than physical effort. Being educated in the 21st century means being well informed. If you are not tuned in on a daily basis, you can easily miss the boat. Some “new kids on the block” will take over you. That happens not only in sport but in any other sphere of life or work.

Professional sport and education should not exclude but complement each other. It’s not easy to combine them but it’s possible. Higher education is not only important as a personal satisfaction for any individual, or an athlete, but it can also help you achieve goals outside the sport. It is up to us, coaches, teachers, sport clubs, to help them get educated. They should, if they want, use their influence and talk to children about the importance of education.

Would you agree that it’s never too late for education?


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