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High school students invest time and effort into athletics but persistently overestimate their chances of going pro

Half a million American high school students play basketball each year. A little over 50 will make it to the NBA.

When young people first start playing sports, they often dream of joining the best of the best. But as they grow up and advance to more competitive levels, athletes begin to wonder how far they are really capable of going.

Student athletes spoke to 8forty, telling us about their experiences in sports and their hopes on becoming a professional athlete. Their comments show that the majority of the student athletes’ expectations were extremely high towards having a career in their sport even when the actual chances were extremely low.

Many respondents exaggerated the possibilities of going pro in a sport. This is a common phenomenon. Even at the college level, athletes vastly overestimate their chances of playing a sport professionally. 

Five student athletes were interviewed on their thoughts about the chances of playing sports professionally. On average, the athletes gave themselves a 59% chance of playing a sport professionally. 

All the Student athletes know that they have to devote their time and dedication towards the sport, but the promises of a professional career make it seem worth it 15-year-old Claire says that you have to take most of your time away from school and other activities to devote to your sport. Stevie, a high school soccer player, says that it’s like a double edged sword. “It’d be like giving up your life to chase your ambition. It’s like you give something away, yet you could be on your way to your dream job”. Claire says that playing a sport It’s a lot of work, but “if you really want something, you have to battle for it. That in meaning put all your time into the sport and work as hard as you can to become better.”

All the student athletes think that playing sports is worth it.  Ray concludes that pursuing this career is “important and right for me because I believe that I have a better chance than others at succeeding in this field because of my talent and athletic abilities.”The athletes recognize that sports have value whether you ultimately go pro or not. Stevie believes that participating in “sports generally is worthwhile” despite the fact that she is under a lot of stress. “The sport is still enjoyable and distracts me from my worries.” 

Alexa says “I believe it’s worthwhile to participate in sports because it teaches you a variety of important life skills such as communication, leadership, patience and resilience when things do not go as planned, the ability to regulate behavior and habits, the development of self-confidence, and many other skills.”

As a result, of their general talents, all of the participants interviewed had estimated odds of them playing a professional sport that far exceeded what the statistics would suggest. According to the NCAA, Basketball is played by 541,054 high school students, yet only about 220 of them will make it to the NBA. That means each high school basketball player has about 0.04% chance, or about 1 in 2,500.

 Those steep odds are unlikely to discourage the athletes though. 

 ”I believe that playing sports, whether professionally or recreationally, is worthwhile because you make a lot of friends along the way,” said Claire. 

“And if you make it big, you make a lot of money.”

Cover image: QuinceCreative/Pixibay

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