Is ‘Professional Athlete’ a Realistic Career Choice?

What are the odds I will be a professional basketball, baseball, or hockey player?

A lot of students write in asking about their chances of playing professional sports. And who can blame them?

A good high school athlete sees the often-high salaries and seemingly glamorous lives of their favorite players and imagines doing the same thing. After all, their coaches tell them they’re good. Their families tell them they’re good. (In fact, a poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found that 26 percent of U.S. parents with a high school athlete hope their child will play professional sports.) It’s no surprise that many teen athletes see pro sports as a perfectly valid career option. Why even bother making a backup plan?

Of course, we can’t tell a student their odds of turning pro without seeing them play. Instead, we’ll tell students wondering about a career in sports that it’s time for a heart-to-heart talk with their coach, who will know more about their skills and ability.

Looking at the big picture, however, the odds are not in many students’ favor if they’re betting on a sports career.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has released some stats showing the percentage of high school athletes who go on to play college sports, and the percentage of those college athletes who make it to the pros. The results are worth checking out: http://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/2015-16RES_Probability_Chart_Web_20170314.pdf

Of course, even for the most talented athletes, sports can be a risky career plan – injuries can derail a career in the blink of an eye.

Fortunately, there are many careers in the sports world that happen off the playing field. Sports is a huge industry – a professional team needs coaches, managers, equipment managers, a publicity team, medical personnel…. In any game, there are dozens of people supporting the players.  Students who love sports, but who may not have what it takes to make the big leagues, could check out some of the behind-the-scenes careers. A good first step is always talking to their coach.

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