By William Bixby
Getting to the professional level of any sport is a difficult, but attainable goal for many athletes. However, there are certain qualities, both physical and mental, that are necessary in order for that goal to be reached. The athlete must have the requisite amount of size and talent, they must have a good enough work ethic, and they must choose the right path to get to the highest level of their sport. Many athletes fail in one or more of these categories and thus never fulfill the accomplishments that their natural ability should afford them. Only through strict adherence to these guidelines can any athlete achieve their goals in sports.
This may seem fairly obvious, but in order for any person to become a professional athlete in any sport, they must have at least the minimum amount of natural talent and size in order to compete in the sport. Basketball players generally have to be well over six feet tall, strong, very coordinated, and quick on their feet. Football players sometimes have less height and coordination than basketball players, but have to be stronger and just as quick as basketball players. Baseball players are usually either average athletes and great hitters, or great athletes and average hitters. Their athleticism depends solely on their position (short stops and center fielders have to be athletic). Professional track athletes rarely get smaller than 5’7″ or taller than 6’4″, but their explosiveness is unrivaled in most sports. In general, the more size that an athlete has in any sport other than track, the less athleticism they have to possess. For example, a seven footer on the basketball court does not have to have a 40″ vertical leap or be extremely agile because his size gives him natural advantages, but a guy who is 5’7″ has to have blinding speed and quickness and an above average vertical to compete. In football, a man who weighs 300+ lbs. does not need to run as fast as the smaller guys who play skills positions. Having the appropriate size and talent is the first precursor to making the pros.
Being in close proximity to a former professional athlete or someone who had the talent to play professionally but failed, is the second prerequisite to playing sports at the highest level. Great amateur players usually have great role models. The media would have you believe that all of the professional athletes that you see on television come from single parent homes where their strict mother worked three jobs while putting her children through school. While the publicized cases of successful single parents who raised professional athletes are admirable, they are not the norm amongst professional athletes. Most athletes who are paid to play sports came from a two parent home where they had rules, role models, and direction. The structure that these players received in their homes produced a work ethic that fueled their improvement in their sport. According to Malcolm Gladwell, in order to become an expert in anything, you have to spend a minimum of 10,000 hours performing the act. A lucrative pro career is completely dependent on a strong work ethic which is instilled by good role models.
The final deciding factor in whether an athlete will play professionally is his path to the league. Talent by itself is not enough to play in the highest leagues unless you are a seminal talent like LeBron James or Alex Rodriguez. Most athletes have to follow the proper course in order to get the right exposure to their dream job. Most players have to play four years of high school ball, then play at least three years of college ball in order to be drafted by a franchise in football. In sports like baseball and basketball, the way that they choose candidates has completely changed. Whereas the conventional rule for MLB and NBA general managers regarding the drafting of talent was to find the most productive players from big conferences and draft them, management now leans towards finding physical gifts and intangibles in players instead of only using the players’ current production. The GM’s of today value potential over production. However, the path to the pros is still through the big programs. Division one athletes play on television more which gives them more exposure, they have better teammates which draws the attention of scouts, and they play against better competition which hones their skills. Any athlete that wants to go pro should consider their school carefully. Even when athletes enter a great Division one school, there are other factors that they must consider to be successful. Does the style of play at the school match their style of play? Rajon Rondo idled under Tubby Smith at Kentucky and almost missed his chance to play in the NBA. But, he has become one of the best young stars in the NBA under Doc Rivers. Tubby’s teams played slow. Doc preferred a faster pace. Some coaches stifle the play of their students. Some coaches have a reputation of sending overrated players into the next level. All these things must be considered when choosing the right path for an athlete.
If a player is talented enough to excel at sports and adheres to these basic tenets, he or she should eventually be paid for his or her profession. The path to the pros is not impossible, but it is filled with obstacles. Learn your craft, put in the hours to hone your skills, choose the right school for you, and you could become a pro.