By Edgar Bazan, Mayor’s Star Class 2016-2017
Most people I know dream big about their kids, and when it comes to sports, we can’t help but dream about the possibility of raising an all-star professional athlete, an Olympian legend, or at least, becoming a recipient of college scholarships. These dreams have many parents instigating in their children to play sports at younger ages with the goal of becoming one day an athletic superstar. This is understandable, as parents we believe our kids are the most special, capable and talented people the world has ever seen. However, there is a difference between what we want them to be and what they actually are. Let’s be honest, our children may play well sports, but that does not mean they are gifted enough to make a career of it.
This is a challenging reality that quite often goes unchecked, and by it, we fantasize and map out the journey of our children before they are even conscious of their own identity as individuals. Sadly, we end up robbing them the opportunity to discern who they are and what they want for themselves in our effort to have them fulfilled our dreams of them. And, when it comes to a professional sports career, this is even much more saddening. The reality is that just a fraction of these children will get a chance into the almost impossible odds of becoming a professional athlete.
This, by no means, is to speak against practicing sports as an extra-curricular activity. Sports are inherently good, they teach hard-work, risk-taking, competition, setting of goals and capacity to focus on attaining them, and dealing with opposing circumstances. They help develop leadership skills, teamwork, and strategic thinking, and, in the long run, they prove to offer life lessons that support healthy living and responsible pursuing careers in other fields. I personally relate to this, I played sports throughout junior and high school, and I would not have the discipline and commitment to teamwork I have today if it was not for those experiences. Sports nurture good qualities in our character, but thinking we can make a living out of them is another story.
Therefore, a critique must be offered when there is an obsession with fortune through sports success. For many, pursuing a sports career is a recipe for disaster. By obsessing with this goal other areas of study and learning get neglected, causing the athlete-student to become ill-prepared for life after sports. When all their time, energy and focus is invested in becoming a professional athlete and they don’t make it, they are left without options.
This is a pervasive reality. The demographics struggling with this reality is not insignificant, nearly 8 million students currently participate in high school athletics, and only 480,000 get to compete at NCAA; of this, there is less than one percent of collegiate athletes that go on to play professionally (see Probability of Competing Beyond High School -NCAA.org). This translates as millions of unfulfilled dreams, identity crises, and heartbreaking disappointments.
Unfulfilled sports dreams have consequences, and millions of our young people suffer them year after year. If their world reality and identity are centered around sports, investing all their time, energy and focus on them, they will most likely suffer a painful and disheartening identity crisis when their dreams are not achieved, and when their hopes of playing sports in college and the pro ranks are crashed.
There is a need for a supportive conscious effort to help these athlete-students transition to life after athletics in terms of career, family life, healthy living and the real world. This is one of the many areas in which The Mayor’s Star Council has taken the initiative to learn and provide leadership to help.
On October 26th, 2016, we gathered with community leaders, educators, and former professional athletes to learn from their experiences and discern wisdom to provide for these needs. Among the people in the panel were: Erik Wilson, Deputy Mayor Pro Tem, Dallas City Councilmember District 8; Gil Garza, Athletic Director DISD; Bethel Johnson, President Downtown Dallas Inc.; and Samantha Karpienski, Counselor, H. Grady Spruce High School. In this panel discussion, we heard the positive impact sports play in students’ life: the more that kids are involved in extra-curricular activities, the more prepared they are for life. However, as it relates to sports, the game is just that: a game. Hence, the critical goal for athlete-students is to get an education for life and not just a shot at professional sports career. Our priority must be to provide a way to get kids educated on values and skills that will support and serve them to become healthy and fully functioning members of society. If there is anything we can do for athlete-students, it is stress education.
A consistent and clear take away from this learning experience was the emphasis on reducing the exclusive identification with a sporting role and expanding the self-identity of students to other pursuits. Some key practical advices are to help and encourage students to discover interests and competencies for other activities beyond sports, and be aware and careful of not defining their identity based on our personal frustrated dreams or ambitions.
It is an atrocity to narrow the paths of our children without given them a chance to listen to the voice of their own hearts. We learned from our panelists that our job as educators and responsible adults is to broaden their options. By default, athlete-students have a finite identity co-dependent on practicing the sport. They need to hear from us that they are much more than a ball-thrower, a ball-kicker or a runner; but that they are individuals made up of many things, capable of pursuing any dream. They have talents and gifts of their own, dreams that belong to them.
There is nothing more satisfying, more gratifying than growing, learning, transforming, and becoming a responsible citizen that contributes to the well-being of others. Adulthood achievement is a difficult beauty, an intensely hard won accomplishment. Therefore, our goal must be -even for athlete-students that do make it to the pro ranks- to nurture them to become fulfilled and responsible citizens that are more than just the game, people that contribute through their education and skills to their communities.
Life after sports comes fast, whether is high school or retirement from the NBA; it happens sooner than expected. And when it does, we need our athlete-students to succeed. We need their creativity and solutions to the challenges we face; we need their leadership and their contributions to humankind.
The game is just a game. Let’s help beyond it.