I meet too many young athletes, many who are aiming to get into the pros or who have just started pro careers, whose life plans are maybe too simple: I just want to play my sport, with nothing else to their strategy.
The “sport” usually refers to high-earning-potential vocations, like basketball and football, and, at least when it comes to who I hear from, young African-American males. I’m writing this post specifically for those athletes to persuade you to have skills that extend beyond the court or the field, and I will tell you why it matters (it’s more than the fact that you might not make it— though that also matters).
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Personally, my ambitions were always bigger than playing my sport, for several reasons.
- I was introduced to reading and writing at an early age. Aside from passing school assignments, writing was the first talent any non-family member ever told me I had, and that person was correct.
- I didn’t start playing “my sport” (basketball) in earnest until age 14, so there was a lot of development and what-I-wanna-be-when-I-grow-up dreaming that happened before I had locked into becoming a basketball player.
- Once I did get into basketball, I never had a stable, dependable streak of things “working” for me to believe that I could just do basketball and have everything work out for me. The struggles along the way forced me to diversify out of pure necessity.
- Any sports fan could read about the fact that many top athletes made more money outside of their playing salaries than they made from their main jobs. And, though that “off-court” money was made possible because of their playing exploits, the people paying them didn’t make their money from playing a sport. This helped me understand that there was more than one way to get money.
- From the very start of my professional career, I recognized the volatility of my job prospects (Note: Not every player has this same experience, depending on several factors). In professional sports, one could be in a job one day and unemployed the next day (and vice versa), very easily. And it was all based on the opinions of someone other than myself. I couldn’t depend on something so unpredictable.
Below are some reasons why you, young athlete, should do the same.
You May Not Make It Pro
This is the harsh, inconvenient, yet very necessary reality of aiming to be a professional athlete. The truth that you already know, I know.
There are not enough spots for everyone who thinks he’s gonna make it to actually make it. And, by definition, not everyone can be “the” exception.
Making it in pro sports is about more than just playing skill. For me to make it, I needed a combination of:
- Basketball skill (practiced ability)
- Talent (God-given abilities that I didn’t practice to have — such as athleticism and size)
- Academics in order
Have any one of these be off, and you may not even get a chance to prove yourself. This is a reality of life.
I’m not telling you that you can’t be the exception; I’d be a hypocrite to even think of saying that to anyone on a “numbers game” basis alone. But, just in case you didn’t know, it’s now been told to you.
And, besides all that…
Even If You Do Make It, You Still Have 50 More Years To Live
Let’s say you’re Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady or Vince Carter and play your sport until you’re 40 something years old (or close).
Congratulations. Now what?
Let’s say you earn $500 million in salary and don’t need for money. Even with that, you’re not going from 20ish years of discipline and dedication (which is the only way you’d last that long in anything) to just doing nothing, as if flipping a light switch to “OFF.”
Look at Kobe, Magic Johnson, and myriad other retired athletes’ post-career lives: They find other things to do and jump into them. These guys have all the money and still work.
Why? Human beings need something to do with themselves.
It’s not collect money and retire from life. People need a purpose. Usually, our purpose is tied to something we like doing; we like doing it because we’re good at. This requires skill. Whether you want to make movies like Kobe, start businesses like Magic, or sell sneakers like Michael Jordan, you need some skill and know-how that goes beyond shooting and dribbling and passing and swimming and running.
I’ve heard Magic speaking at events where he admits: When he first stepped into the business world, people didn’t take him seriously. He had been a great basketball player, yes, but that didn’t mean he could do business magic had to prove himself in the business world before he could get serious business people, people who’d been doing business for as long as Magic had been doing basketball, to invest in or with him.
The Money You Make In Sports (Probably) Won’t Last Forever
The hundred millionaire athlete is the exception, not the rule.
This article sums it all up in one place: Average salaries, combined with (the key) average career length. Read it.
Now, grab your calculator and do the following:
- Find your sport.
- Multiply average salary x average career length. That’s how much money you’ll make as a professional athlete (IF you’re at that highest level, where the money is highest).
- Cut that number in half to account for taxes.
- Take another 10% off of the resulting number for paying your people: Financial advisors, trainers, agents, lawyers, family members on payroll, the mortgage for that house you bought for mom, etc.
- That number that you’re left with? That’s what you actually take home. But we’re still not done.
- Calculate your yearly cost of living based on the life you expect to live as an athlete (google these based on your personal desires): House/rent payments. Car payments (+ insurance and gas). Food. Children. Pets. Vacations. Shopping. Other luxuries.
- Does your take-home income from #5 even cover #6???
- Remember that this is not factoring in unexpected expenditures and emergencies, is assuming you’re healthy and consistently employed in your sport (and getting paid), that you’re in fact playing in the highest league (lower leagues = less money), and that you may be supporting family members who aren’t making close to what you’re making (maybe making nothing).
Bottom line: Just because you make it to become a professional athlete does not mean you’re set for life with money — especially if you haven’t planned and strategized where your money is going, like what I laid out above.
All of this means, after you’re done playing, you may not only want to work — you may need to work to maintain the lifestyle you’ve grown accustomed to. This doesn’t mean you’ve messed up in any way, it’s just the truth of the situation.
Plug your own life into the above, do some calculations and see for yourself.
And, if all you’re good at is playing your sport — but you don’t play it anymore — what value can you offer to anyone that they’d be willing to pay for, to financially support this life you’ve built?
Even Coaches, Trainers and Analysts Need People Skills To Get In And Stay In
These are the three areas — coaching, training and analyzing — that I see the highest percentage of athletes go into after their careers end. I couldn’t see myself doing any of these, but not because there’s anything wrong with them. These are honest and valuable roles that someone needs to fill; who better than someone who’s done it for a living as a player?
Thing is, just because you played a sport doesn’t mean can get a job coaching, teaching or analyzing it. These jobs are in competitive markets, with a lot of people — ex-athletes and non- — going for the same spot that you want. And just like in playing, not everyone can get in. You’ll have to interview and audition for the job, which requires communication and people skills that aren’t taught in the NFL or NBA.
The people competing for your job will have these skills; some of them have been practicing while you’ve been playing a sport. Where will you get the skills from?
Eventually, You’ll Be A Former Athlete — What’s Your Value Then?
No matter how long or allustrious your playing career, one day it’ll be over.
Let me tell you who you don’t want to be at any point from that day forward: The former athlete, the guy/girl who used to play, but isn’t doing anything worthwhile now.
My definition of business is, simply, the exchange of value between people. I give you a book, for example, you give me $20. You give me a training session, I give you $100. You gave the value of being one of the best performers in your sport, some team paid you money for it.
Once you’re no longer doing that, though, who are you? Not only for monetary purposes, but life purposes: What is your life about now? We know what you used to do; what do you do now?
Don’t be the used-to-be person who doesn’t have an answer.
You can learn what these non-athlete skills are, and many keys to start developing them, by subscribing to my daily Work On Your Game Podcast.
PS- You can get a free physical copy of my book on Confidence The Super You here now.