Sorry, Your Kid Isn’t Going Pro

The stats don't lie

Ben Sherwood

| 5 min read

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On every team, you’re guaranteed to meet parents who believe wholeheartedly that little Ronaldo or Serena is bound to play NCAA Division 1 athletics, compete in the Olympics or go pro.

As a coach, I’ve encountered parents of 4-year-olds who are convinced that their kids are going all the way — kids who can’t tie their shoelaces but are destined for the Olympic podium in 2040.

Turns out, most parents harbor these illusions. Surveys show that 67 percent of parents hope their kids win college scholarships while 34 percent dream that they make the Olympic team or play professionally. It’s one thing to fantasize — it’s another to be convinced. Fully 40 percent of parents with young athletes are “certain” or “fairly sure” their gold medal and pro contract ambitions will come true.

Here’s the truth: It’s not going to happen.

As a parent-coach, you need to be armed with arguments and facts when you’re facing moms and dads who believe their son Mays has a destiny to fulfill. (And yes, I coached a great little kid named after San Francisco Giants legend Willie Mays. Our Mays ran the bases backwards, but his dad still believed he was going to the Big Show.)

So what to say to these parents with big plans?

First, you can tell them that a young athlete is more likely to own a pro team than play for one, as one of my coach friends likes to joke.

Second, if your kid ends up being good enough to play in high school (a tall order, in and of itself), the odds of going pro are still shockingly low.

According to NCAA statistics, only a minuscule percentage of high school athletes go all the way to play professionally.

  • 1 in 610 (.16%) will get drafted by a Major League Baseball team. 
  • 1 in 10,399 (.0096%) will get picked by an NBA team. 
  • 1 in 12,873 (.0077%) will be chosen by a WNBA team. 
  • 1 in 3,960 (.025%) will get picked by an NFL team.

“It’s extremely difficult to make the pros; we all know that,” says Tom Farrey, the director of the Sports and Society Program at the Aspen Institute and author of Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children. Still, many parents don’t seem to care. “A lot of parents today see those odds and say, Well, I’d better get started early with my kid.”

With $3.5 billion dollars in athletic scholarships handed out every year, it’s no surprise.

But what are the chances that little Shaq will play in college?

For a male high school senior:

  • the chance of making an NCAA basketball team is 3.5 percent.
  • … soccer: 5.6 percent.
  • … football: 7.3 percent.
  • … baseball: 7.5 percent.
  • … ice hockey: 12.3 percent.
  • … lacrosse: 12.8 percent.

For female seniors playing in high school:

  • the chance of making an NCAA softball team is 5.6 percent.
  • … basketball: 4.1 percent. 
  • … soccer: 7.2 percent.
  • … lacrosse: 12.5 percent.
  • … ice hockey: 26.2 percent?!

(That last stat might make some parents ship their daughters to Minnesota to pick up a hockey stick.)

When dealing with parents who have big dreams, it’s worth reminding them there are lots of great reasons to play youth sports that don’t involve scholarships, Olympic medals or pro sponsorships. 

Supported by science, they include:

  • Kids who play sports have better grades and higher test scores.
  • Kids who play sports are more likely to go to college and graduate school and earn more money. 
  • Kids who play sports smoke fewer cigarettes, take fewer drugs and have fewer issues with diabetes and their weight.

Happier and healthier kids should be reason enough. 

No matter what stats you throw their way, there will be certain parents who insist their kid is still going to the Hall of Fame. (Doctors have a name for this behavior: achievement by proxy distortion.) Just remember: As Coach, it’s not your job to manage their agenda. Your job is to make the game as fun as possible for Ronaldo, Serena and Mays, as well as every other kid on the team.

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