Sport, School & A Global Pandemic | Kipp Smith

Balancing life as an elite sportsperson as well as completing your final year of school is already hard enough, and for Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS) scholarship holder Kipp Smith, a global pandemic made things even more challenging.

But, with the help of the Victorian Institute of Sport’s Performance Services, Smith was able to complete his VCE studies at Wesley College and continue training for gymnastics. He has since recently been accepted and commenced his Bachelor’s degree of Engineering and Science, as he continues his quest to one day compete for Australia at the Olympic Games.

Smith is currently already an Australian representative in Artistic Gymnastics, and he started at the VIS in early 2019 apart of the Future Talent Program. He was able to reach new heights in his sport in 2019, finishing second overall in the Pommel Houston Invitational and qualifying for the World Junior Championships in Hungary, where he placed 32nd overall.

He always knew that 2020 was going to be a challenging year, having to juggle his school and sporting commitments. But he never anticipated the majority of his learning in year 12 would be remote and said that it was all round a “tough year mentally.”

“Trying to absorb as much information through zoom calls as I could and sit tests through a computer screen was difficult for me, especially whilst having to maintain a high standard of training from my living room,” he said.

But he knew that this was now his new normal and had to try his best to keep a positive outlook on the year ahead.

“The pandemic gave me plenty more time to study and focus on school, without having to worry about missing training camps or competitions or falling behind on my schoolwork,” he said. 

Although the majority of the year was spent learning remotely, Smith was still able to give an insight into his experience of balancing school, studies and his high-performance ambitions.

“All high performing athletes have busy training, work and school schedules, so the main thing for me was to make the most out of my allocated spare [study] periods during school,” he said.

He also used these spare periods to catch up with his teachers and mentors, to start future planning and ensure he wouldn’t fall behind when his sporting commitments ramped up.

“Throughout the year, I had weeks, where I would miss school due to training camps and events, so I always made sure during my spare periods, that I was on top of everything and up front with all of my communication.”

One thing that was crucial for Smith, especially during those “high stress weeks of school” was to always ensure he had a solid plan in front of him.

“Every Sunday, I would plan the following week and make sure I had all my appointments, training times, and due dates in my planner,” he said.

Smith said that he was so grateful for all the access he had to services at the Victorian Institute of Sport and that he would frequently check in with himself, particularly when dealing with high stress levels.

“When I was struggling to get quality sleep at night, I would reach out to VIS psychologist Mark Spargo and seek advice.”

One piece of advice that he said resonated with him throughout the year, was when Spargo told him that sometimes “getting an extra hour of sleep at night, was more beneficial than an extra hour of study.”

“It was great to know I had all the service staff at the VIS, like the Performance Lifestyle team and Nutrition team in my corner, and that they were all there to offer assistance and support throughout the year,” he said.

If Smith could give one crucial piece of advice for all students that are undergoing their final year of school, it would be to “get some time to yourself and focus on your own mental wellbeing.”

“But most importantly enjoy it, it’s your last year of school and you’ll have a lot of fun, make the most of all your opportunities.”

VIS Performance Lifestyle Manager, Leesa Gallard said that it had been crucial in 2020 for the Performance Lifestyle Team to provide support and guidance to VIS Year 12 students in such a unique year.

“The Performance Lifestyle team were thrilled that the 2020 Year 12 athletes were able to show determination and resilience in a challenging year in order to successfully complete their studies and be well prepared to move onto the next phase and continue to strive for success in sport and life.” Gallard said.

The team had regular individual meetings with each Year 12 athlete and hosted online sessions for Year 12 athletes and their parents to assist with the transition from Year 12 to further education at University or TAFE and a session specifically for parents on ‘How to Support your Elite Athlete during Year 12 exams’. 

Both sessions were well received and provide a great opportunity to share information and answer questions about Year 12 and the next step beyond Year 12. Athletes and parents were also able to connect in with our Elite Athlete Education Network partners in Universities.

In 2021 the Performance Lifestyle Team have expanded the series and started the year with an online session for athletes (and their parents) studying a Year 12 subject focussing on setting up the year ahead with planning and communication.

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