More parents and coaches should tell young athletes that they aren't going pro. Not to squash their dreams, but to expand their reality and broaden the possibilities for themselves.
In the 2010 census there were 30,500 black doctors, 30,800 black lawyers, and only 3500 black professional athletes in all sports combined. Why then are we influencing our young athletes so much to singularly strive for pro ball, when the chances of being a neurosurgeon is much greater? I was scrolling through Facebook and came upon a thread by Geoff Pope a fellow HU bison and former NFL player (read Super Bowl champion) and he was expressing that he wasn't going to let his two sons play contact football but flag football because of the health risks. The comment section lit up with support and also confusion and disdain. Some were confused because Geoff played himself. He played at the highest level in fact. The commenter made the point that although there are potential health risks for high school, college, as well as pros, sports keep kids off the street in low-income areas. Here is the quote that prompted this post. “I Agree. It definitely impacts college players and high school players (brain injuries) as well. Society has convinced us and limited or resources to make us think "pro ball or bust." We have to change that". This quote is what this post is about. Changing the mentality that is so prevalent in athletic culture but overwhelmingly so in the black community that pro-ball is the only thing one should strive for if you are a successful athlete. I was watching a segment from the black student athlete summit and one of the presenters said that 80% of the athletes she interviewed had no other aspirations except playing professionally. Where on earth does that leave them if and when they retire from pro sport or more than likely they experience deselection before they even get there?
“I Agree. It definitely impacts college players and high school players (brain injuries) as well. Society has convinced us and limited our resources to make us think "pro ball or bust." We have to change that" -Geoff Pope- Founder of The LCR Unique Perspectives from the Left, Right, and Center https://thelcr.com/
Priming happens at a young age. Parents and people in the community may begin to refer to your child as your “little football player or basketball star” and that begins to inform them of their value. It begins shaping their identity in such a way that the other parts of themselves start fading to the background. Their capacity to dream and the picture that they have of themselves centers around pro sports. I centers around their identity of being an athlete and performing well. They begin to base their self-esteem and self-worth on their bodies and how well it can perform. Don't get me wrong, sport has been a major part of my life and I appreciate my success there. However, I think I loved it so much to the detriment of my intellectual and vocational development. The truth is, no matter what level you make it to, you will be doing something else for the majority of your life. That's why I believe we as educators, parents, coaches, and anyone else that is influential in young athletes lives need to recognize them for not only their athletic ability, but also other areas where they excel. By doing so, we show them that they are valued and can be proficient in areas other than sport. This will come in handy when it’s time for transition out. They need to to know that they can still have a successful life even if they don’t go pro.
We also need to explain to them and show them that one person’s success doesn’t have to be their success. It’s important that they understand and strive for their own idea of success and alternate ways of achieving it. We need to help them understand that it isn't pro ball or bust, there are other options. I also think it's wise to encourage exploration of other interests while still participating in sport. I know that is idealistic and it's easier said than done but it's imperative that they don't think they're only an athlete and they don't think that's the only thing that they can do. They must be mentally willing and able to explore other identities and interest.
Having the neighborhood (parent, coach, community member) on your shoulders expecting you to go professional in your sport is hard to be mentally able to explore other options or other identities.
Curiosity and exploration of self as well as other occupational identities should continue throughout a sports career. When retirement comes either by age, deselection, or injury they should be able to roll right into the next phase. Even if they don't have a clear plan they understand that their physical performance isn't all they have to offer the world. They know that they’re are other aspects to themselves that they just need to tap into.
What are some solutions?
A. Show them alternative models of success...
B. Encourage and or facilitate opportunities and activities for exploring multiple identities and interest to widen their self-esteem and sense of personal value. This will build self confidence and personal responsibility.
C. Documentation- Studies have shown that writing increases one's ability to articulate thought feelings and ideas more clearly. Keeping a journal of values, life goals,sports successes and failures, how they want life to look, ideas they have, and experiences they’ve had. All these entries come together to form patterns that are helpful during the transition process. They can see what was important to them and how they can still thrive after sport.
Here are 9 ways to combat the “Pro Ball or Bust” mentality.
- When you talk to them ask them questions about themselves and about their interest. Talk to them about more than their sport and recognize them for the other attributes about themselves. Notice the things that aren't sports-related and be excited about them just as much as you notice and are excited about their sport.
- Express interest in and noticed when they are proficient in another area notice their personal character traits. Notice when they're being responsible, notice if there is something that they're good at, give them positive constructive feedback on them and show them where they can learn more about it. Encourage them to get a book or research it more.
- Encourage internships or camps in fields they are curious about. There are a lot of opportunity for scholarships to STEM camps or arts camps. There is literally a camp for everything you just have to look for them.
- Don't make them feel weird for enjoying certain things. Some kids have interests that they don't like sharing with other people because somebody is going to make fun of them because of it. As long as it's safe and constructive, let them live.
- Make them feel valued even when they experience a failure ait sports. Even if they have a bad game don't berate them about the bad game, be encouraging and let them know that their value isn't attached to whether they're winning or whether they're matriculating up the ladder of sports.
- Let them try new things, encourage them to try new things outside of their comfort zone.
- Show them other ways to make a living or create a life that doesn't center around the plan of HAVING to make it in sport. It's not the only way. If they want to stay in sport, show them the other areas around sport that still allows them to be apart, but doesn't necessarily have to do with their bodily performance.
- Tell them they aren't going pro. This isn’t a popular statement but I don’t really care. Stop putting it in their heads that they're going professional. If they do end up playing professionally that is fantastic and they would have worked hard to get there but stop telling them they're going pro.
- You personally be example. Young people are very impressionable and they're looking at people to model and emulate so be an example yourself. If you want them to try new things you try new things. If you say education is important, let them see you reading a book or taking a course, or pursuing a degree. They will do what you DO more than what you SAY.
It's hard to yell over the noise, but if we want our young athletes, the potential leaders of tomorrow, to rise to the occasion and lead healthy productive lives off the field or court they have to know where the true value lies.
*If you work in the field of athlete development, are an athlete yourself, or care about helping athletes transition from a life dominated by sport to a high-value life filled with new challenges, goals, and fulfillment please share this post.*
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