The Many Steps To Superstar Status
Almost every youngster in the United States has, at one time or another, wished to be a famous athlete. It is hard to avoid. All aspects of the media bombard them with magnificent tales of points and goals scored, touchdowns, races won, and other measures of athletic achievement.
The social networking mechanism adds fuel to the fire. The situation is also compounded by parents aspiring for the athletic success of their children. They use their children to fulfill their own hidden desires. And if they don’t have children of their own they find some way to work with them through youth leagues in various sports.
When you consider the limited number of players in the upper professional ranks and the much larger number of aspiring young athletes, it becomes clear that the race to stardom is not just a simple walk in park, it is a mountain climb.
For example, Major League Baseball maintains a total roster of 1,170 players for all teams, Major League Hockey has 1,340 players and the NFL has 2,144. The NBA has 420, and Major League Soccer, both indoors and outdoors have 145 players. To compound the situation, most of those players see limited action but have multi-year contracts. Only a handful reach superstar status.
The average professional tenure is approximately three years. That does not leave much room for the entry of new players. For example, in the sport of football, less than one percent of the available college players make it into the professional ranks. Since most children and their parents are not mathematically motivated in that direction, emotion rules and the desire for stardom remains strong.
That being the case, how does a youngster make it? What does he have to do? Every sport has a unique feeder system.
The First Step-Youth Recreation And Training
All major sports encourage the participation of youngsters at a very early age such as four-year-olds. Training camps and clinics, recreation leagues, sports clubs and other activities are available.
As youngsters progress and are found to have potential, they can join the travelling tournament circuit and play in tournaments as often as weekly.
The major shoe companies also sponsor national championship tournaments and all-star games. The youngsters receive equipment and expenses for their participation. Paid private trainers are also frequently employed at the discretion of the parents. This can continue until they are of high school age and beyond.
High School Participation
Baseball, basketball, and football are consistently played in high schools across the United States. Sports such as ice hockey and soccer are played in some schools depending on the climate. In those cases, junior leagues fill the void.
In most sports, an athlete can also play on a high school team during the normal playing season and compete in an all-star club or AAU team in the off- season, depending on local regulations. But no matter how you look at it, the individual sport becomes a full-time job for the youngster.
This is a critical time in the athlete’s potential professional career. It is the time for recruiting. Numerous scouting organizations exist for all sports. Some charge a fee to the athlete’s parents for publicizing their child.
The NBA and MLB both selectively recruit a few outstanding high school athletes into the professional ranks. For example, the NBA recruited Moses Malone, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James directly out of high school. The colleges are always recruiting and so are the professional agents. However, some professional agents go about it differently — they subsidize youth all-star organizations/clubs and establish a relationship between the organization and the athlete without being directly involved.
When it becomes time for the athlete to consider entering the professional ranks, the organization steers the player to the agent. If the athlete is in college, the agent hires a surrogate, typically a fellow student, who intercedes for the agent. In that manner, the agent does not have direct contact with the athlete until the timing is legal. The agent usually does work with the parents to exert influence and some have been known to provide cash and other gratuities for parental support.
The Farm System
Each professional sport has a unique farm system. Baseball has an extensive system consisting of Class A, AA, and AAA leagues. Each major league team has its own minor league team or teams that they can draw on for talent. A player can go from both the major league team to the minors and vice versa. They can also draw directly from the college ranks and have been known to move high school players directly into the minor leagues.
Ice Hockey has a similar system with both minor leagues and junior hockey leagues that provide a source of talent. They also can draw from the college ranks, as appropriate.
Football uses the colleges as their primary farm system. Although there is a minor league and semi-pro football, those teams are not official members of the NFL farm system.
Basketball also uses the colleges as their primary source of talent. There are several minor basketball leagues, but they have no affiliation with the NBA.
However, the NBA does operate the Development, or D-League, which consists of 17 teams, 14 of which have specific NBA team affiliations. Free agent hopefuls flock to the Las Vegas and other summer leagues with hopes of being selected by any professional team, major or minor league.
For those who want to simply be paid reasonably well and be treated like a hero, they can play overseas (if selected). Professional or club basketball is played in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, South America and Asia.
Soccer is played in numerous minor leagues team throughout the U.S. Although not a formal farm system, the talent is there to be observed. Players for major league soccer are also selected from competition through out the world.
Of course, as in most sports, there are formal tryout opportunities. Despite all of the other playing opportunities, the youngsters’ goals are the major leagues, not the minors, and superstar status and the money and fame that goes with it — not just being a plain substitute player. Unfortunately, stardom is not easy to obtain.
For those youngsters who do not wish to work their way through the available minor league systems, college participation is the only viable option. If they are not totally dedicated to the sport they chose or was selected for them and are interested in a possible career in any particular field, then the academic programs offered by a college or university become very important
If not, the athletic reputation of the school and the chance to be seen at a national level overrides all else and they choose the school that provides the best exposure. If their top college choice or choices are not available, they take second best — getting into college is the main thing.
Now the challenge is to stay in college, at least temporarily, and excel in the specific sport. That takes a great deal of discipline and an excellent work ethic. You have to maintain the educational part of the process and become as outstanding an athlete as possible as well.
Hopefully, you will be in the starting lineup. If not, you will have to find a way to get there. It is important to keep improving and to stay healthy. Injuries are a great deterrent to professional scouts.
Decision-making time occurs when the player discovers that they are a potential draft candidate before they have ended their four-year program. We hear a lot about players being drafted in their freshman and sophomore years, but they are the exceptions, not the rule.
Actual national statistics show that over 80 percent of the college athletes complete the four-year program, almost as many as non-athlete students. In considering leaving school early to enter a professional draft a number of factors are important: Is this the year to enter the draft? How high do people think they will be drafted? Would they be a higher pick if they waited? Should they take the risk of possibly a bad college year or injury? If they are loyal to their school, what would their departure do to the team and the school?
The student athletes ask questions of people they trust and when it comes right down to it, most of the athletes would enter the draft, if wanted. However, very few have that opportunity and stay in the college ranks for a wide range of reasons: they do, however, enter the draft ultimately and some end up on professional teams.
The Professional Life
At this point they have gone through the system starting as a young child and working hard to be considered a good athlete. They have participated in tournaments and played at their sport year round. They have competed as best they could in high school and on all-star teams in the off season. They have selected a college to play for and have done their best for their school. And now they are entering the professional ranks.
They expect great things to happen. Professional life poses a series of challenges. The first is to establish themselves as a viable member of the team. They have to secure an active position on the team where they see as much playing time as possible … and they want to win. Winning makes life easier and makes their position more secure.
Losing teams make personnel changes. They have to adjust to life on the road, especially in baseball and basketball, when they are away from home on long extended trips six to eight months of the year. They have to adjust their family and personal lives to meet this new life style. They have to keep improving their game, because there is always more talent waiting to challenge their position and they have to reckon with the possibility of not being retained and/or being traded to another team in another city, uprooting their personal lives.
Those that are superstars continue to strive to improve due to ego, pressure from the media and fans and sheer competitiveness. The one factor none of them have not actively considered is that when they are thirty years of age or a little older, they will be lucky to have lasted that long in the professional ranks and will soon be out of work.
New names will replace theirs and the media will not be interested in their situation. There are sports jobs in coaching, management, and broadcasting, but there is a long waiting line for those positions.
If they were smart, they invested and saved their money. Now what do they do with themselves? All your life you looked forward to actively participating in your sport. You are now too old for little league and too young to retire.
Jerry Weber is a Brooklyn-born sports enthusiast who has been interested in sport his entire life. He began playing at a young age, harboring dreams of being a starting point guard, quarterback and a starting forward for the New York Ranger professional hockey team. After a year of college he entered the U.S. Air Force and was honorably discharged four years later. No married, he helps his children compete in sports and he has taken part in the formation of a number of sports leagues around the world, coaching a professional basketball team in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, before returning to Los Angeles. Although those leagues folded, Jerry has aspirations to continue in sports management.