What does it take to become a professional athlete?
We watch our favorite athletes on T.V. and follow them on social media just to catch a glimpse of what their lives must be like. Fame, paparazzi’s, competitiveness, hard work and incredible grit are some of the main attributes and characteristics we find in their lives, but here I’m going to uncover a much deeper experience or what it means to be a professional and the number of factors involved in the process of reaching fame.
99% of professional athletes are not famous
Here’s something to think about. Let’s do a little exercise; I want you to think of at least 10 different professionally recognized sports, and then think about as many professional players as you can within that sport. Unless you’re a sports fanatic you’ve come up with 0-5 names on average for each sport. The hard truth is that unless you’re in the top 20 in the world, or very unexpectedly defeat a world class player, you’re out putting in endless amount of work, time, sweat and tears with little to no fame.
Hard Work and Talent are not enough
Sorry if I disappoint any readers, but it takes much more than being talented or hardworking to become a successful professional athlete. Long gone are the days where just talent could get you there, and gone are the days where “anything can come true if you just work hard and long enough”. A big factor that enables you to become a professional athlete above and beyond talent and hard work is finances. Can you pay for all your travel? Can you pay for high level coaching and personal training that you require? What about injuries? Can you pay for the services of a good doctor to keep your body in its best care? Can you provide your body with the right amount and quality of food on a daily basis?
There are so many questions relating to finances that often break the future of highly talented and hardworking individuals. Some get their equipment sponsored, and if you’re lucky they pay for your travel expenses, but that still leaves a wide array of out-of-pocket expenses you need to cover before you make your first penny in prize money.
Pressure, pressure, pressure
I can’t emphasize enough but the level of stress that comes about being a professional athlete is almost equivalent of owning a large company. Your sponsors are your shareholders, your fans are your customers, your invested family members are your most reliable managers, your coaches, therapists and trainers are your managers and employees and the government is well..the government. You’re practicing your sport 5-6 hours a day 6 times a week your entire life, but when it comes to competition, the larger your company, the greater the pressure to perform. Kids the age of 13 already face the level of pressure a Company owner faces. To add to it, most budding professional athletes don’t have sufficient funds coming from sponsorships, and thus your family takes the burden. It’s difficult to watch your family make those sacrifices for you while you play a tournament overseas and lose in the first round. This is a big reason why kids quit during their teenage years just at the beginning of their international careers. Not to mention the level of emotional turmoil taking place in a teenage or young adult’s life in the process of establishing their own identity.
Another big cause of athletes taking a different route is the availability of other ways of life that are less taxing on your body, less stressful and more financially rewarding. Take my decision to come on a full ride sports scholarship to a college in the US. My option were; continue grinding on the tennis court day in and day out with a very insecure financial and athletic future or take the full scholarship and get an excellent 4 year education for free. I know many people who went down the college route and don’t regret the decision. For some sports like Football and basketball, going professional after playing at a university is the norm, but for many other sports that’s not the case, although there are exceptions of course!
This is a part of an athletes life. Some injuries are small and some are big, big enough to end your career. The human body is a fragile thing and if you don’t take good care of it on a regular basis, all your time spent on the court or field can all go in vain! What a terrible thing to think about! Unfortunately, this isn’t uncommon and we must prepare for something like this to happen. This is why the idea of dropping out of school at a tender age is frowned upon even in the world of sports because of the many uncertainties out of your control that determine whether you will become a professional athlete or not.
Last but not least, once we’ve gone through the reality of everything mentioned above, do we still love the game or not?! If we do, great! We keep going hard every single day and stay optimistic throughout our careers. But what if we don’t? It’s not a crazy idea to begin disliking or even hating something when you have to do it 5-6 hours a day and go through the injuries and pressures highlighted earlier. Athletes frequently have phases of both, love and hate but is it worth it? That’s a great question and one that determines your future as a professional athlete.