Student athletes better have a backup plan

BY SCOTT MCMAHON

By the time Mike Palshaw was 8 years old, he was taking lessons from a private pitching coach. By the summer before his senior year of high school, he was pitching on an AAU Junior Olympics baseball team, hurling at 85 mph and showcasing his talent for NCAA coaches and professional scouts alike. But before his senior year began, Palshaw’s left arm began to give way.

 

Despite signing with the University of San Francisco on a full scholarship (part athletic, part academic), in the back of his mind, Palshaw knew that baseball was not in his future long term. Two years later, the straw broke the camel’s back and the current Carmel High English instructor began a different path in life. To this day, he cannot fully extend his throwing arm.

 

According to Pro Sports Odds, fewer than 3 in every 50 high school players go on to play college baseball, and of those 5.6 percent, fewer than 11 in 100 go on to play in the lowest levels of the pros. Of those, only 1 in 33 minor leaguers will make it to Major League Baseball. The calculated chance of a high school baseball player playing in the MLB is 6,600 to 1.

 

0.015 percent.

 

The statistics vary by sport, but the underlying commonality doesn’t: Earning a career by playing professional sports is incredibly hard and extremely unlikely, even if you are exceptional at your game.

 

If this is the case, then, from a purely rational and economic perspective, why do so many students dedicate so many hours to a trade that, in the long run, will likely have no monetary value?

 

Well, there’s the obvious answer: They love it. It’s their lifelong passion, and they play for the innumerable benefits that athletics grant a human being—physique, mental clarity, enjoyment, etc. But if they’re playing solely on the hopes that one day they’ll make it big, it can confidently be said that their time would be better spent at a computer or with a pencil in hand.

 

Dylan Houpt, a CHS senior and pitching recruit by programs such as Washington University in St. Louis and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is currently in the thick of this situation.

 

“I have no plans of going pro at the moment,” Houpt says. “In college sports, I see the benefits of having fun, playing the game I love at the highest level and having a group of guys throughout college to be a part of a brotherhood with.”

 

Houpt plans on pursuing a career in “something business-related” outside of the athletic sphere.

 

And, again, this is not to say that pursuing greatness in athletics should be dismissed, especially for those passionate and willing to put in hours upon hours of practice. CHS varsity boys’ basketball coach Kurt Grahl is adamant in his support of student athletics, for the lessons sports teach both on and off the court.

 

“The lessons you learn from physically pushing yourself, being part of a team and learning how to bounce back from ‘failure’ and to persevere can be one of the greatest ways to learn many of life’s important lessons in a relatively safe environment,” Grahl says. “[Sports] gave me a fairly safe place to fail and ‘get back up,’ which was a skill that I think everyone needs in life. I actually feel like that is something our younger generation is deficient in.”

 

Grahl does, however, acknowledge the daunting statistics and agrees that the vast majority of athletes will hit an impassable wall.

 

“If someone is participating in a sport with the sole goal of playing in college or as a professional, then I think that is a different conversation,” he continues. “I think those that are only in the sport for that reason may end up not enjoying it much and could be in for a tough reality check.”

 

This reality check often comes in college, where balancing an academic curriculum with collegiate sports becomes an immensely difficult task. While Grahl does not have first-hand experience with this situation, former volleyball standout and current Visiting Nurse Association and hospice nurse Sara McCarty does.

 

“Volleyball was tough, especially when there was a lot going on in my classes,” says McCarty, who played volleyball at Georgia Southern. “It took quite a bit of time to get used to the early morning workouts, then practice, then classes. There was like no time off.”

 

In any case, a youth without sports is a deprived youth, and there is no reason why kids shouldn’t put time and effort into playing the games they love. There may be a reason, though, for those on a path of hopefully making their career in sports to take a step back and consider all of their options.

 

And if you are dead set on making it big, then by all means, continue…but do your homework. Get your degree. Hone the hundreds of other skills God has given you, because if you do fall into the other 99.9 percent, you’d better have a backup plan.