I had a discussion recently with Jim, vice-president of marketing for a successful private company about his experience with hiring college students who’d recently graduated. Our discussion confirmed my long-held belief that college-athletes for the most part, are less likely to find a satisfying career after college than those that don’t play a NCAA sport.
Jim shared the story of one of his recent hires, a college-athlete—Sean, who attended a prestigious university playing for the school’s ice hockey team on a scholarship. Jim described how Sean, hired as an account manager, appeared confident and personable, yet spoke frequently about how he ‘almost made it to the NHL’. Sean seemed haunted by ‘just missing’ his chance at the pros. “Sean had lots of potential, but seemed to be holding back—almost as if the job was beneath him” is how Jim described it.
Results from a recent NCAA supports shows that Sean’s aspiration of making it to the pros (or Olympics) is an assumption held by many college-athletes from all sports—case in point as many as 78% of Division I male college-athletes playing hockey think it’s at least somewhat likely they’ll become a professional and/or Olympic athlete in their sport, as do 53% of soccer players, and 24% swimmers (NCAA, slide #92). Even with the median falling around 50%, that’s a significant number of athletes thinking that they’ll be going pro after college. Female athletes don’t have as high expectations (NCAA, slide #94).
Huge Discrepancy Between College-Athletes Expectations and Reality
Yet not surprising, the chances of going pro or making the Olympics is incredibly small; for the majority of sports it’s around 1.0% or less (NCAA Research, 2015). The discrepancy between what college-athletes think is likely to happen, going pro or getting to the Olympics, and what will happen is significant. Distressingly so. The concern is how this mindset of these athletes affects the choices they make in college, and the plans and expectations they have for the future—after graduation.
Negative Impact on College-Athletes Mindset During College Years
The goal of higher education is to prepare students for adult life that includes not only having the critical thinking skills to engage fully in civic, family and community life, but the experiences that will guide them to a path that leads to a fulfilling and satisfying career. College is the foundation for providing these opportunities, yet the schedule of college-athletes leaves little time for athletes to engage in clubs, participate in on and off-campus events, mix with different groups, or explore different academic paths. Their schedule is tight, thinking narrowed because of it. Their sport is the single focus for most athletes. The lack of breadth in school experiences is likely why many student-athletes think of little else but going pro.
Fortunately not all college-athletes think this way. The NCAA research reveals that Division I and II male athletes are more likely to think of going pro, while female athletes and Division III athletes have for more realistic expectations (NCAA research, slide #93).
Means to and End
There are benefits to being a student-athlete, being able to attend a college one might not have been able to attend without one’s sport for instance, but it’s a means to an end, where the end is an education that sets college-athletes up for life; not for going pro.
- Statistical Proof that Your Kid is Not Going Pro (2015), Amanda Caswell
- The Statistical Breakdown Of Becoming A Professional Athlete Will Make You Keep Your Day Job (2014), Julian Sonny
- A Long Shot (2016), Jake New
- Estimated probability of competing in professional athletics. (2015, March 06). Retrieved from http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/estimated-probability-competing-professional-athletics
- Results from the 2015 GOALS Study of the student – athlete experience. (2016). NCAA Research. doi:10.1063/1.4915594 http://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/GOALS_convention_slidebank_jan2016_public.pdf