“Why Didn’t You Play Pro?”

“Why didn’t you play pro?”

In the past two years, kids and teenagers in Allendale have asked me this question more times than I can remember. It almost always comes right after they find out that I played football in college (Furman University). Playing professional football would be the next logical step, right?

(And I’m not the only one — some of the other coaches have gotten this same question.)

My Football Experience

Let’s set the record straight — I was no sports stud. I went to college on scholarships, but they were academic scholarships (as I explained to a couple of kids last year), though I did earn some football money later on. I walked on the team, was redshirted like most other freshman, and then played for four years.

I like to joke, “Saying, ‘I played football’ might be a stretch. Let’s just say I was on the team.” But I got regular playing time on some special teams, and worked my way up to second-string safety my senior year. But even the safety who dislocated his shoulder was better than me. I knew football was not my future.

The Odds Are Against You

You hate to squash a kids dreams, but they don’t realize how few people make it to the pros. Jon Acuff pointed out that 3.5 million kids play little league football, and only 1700 men are playing in the NFL right now.

I played with some great athletes at Furman, but I can’t name a dozen of them (over my 5 years there) who played pro football, and only one of them played long enough to earn a pension.

Still not convinced? Read this great story about how difficult it is for an NFL longshot to make the cut.

But the odds are against even playing in college. I was part of a successful high school team, being a starter for 2 of the 3 straight state championship teams. But no more than a handful of us played in college (and one guy did make it to the pros).

How I Talk to These Kids?

With younger children, I explain that I knew I wasn’t good enough to play in the pros. At this age, I am honest with them, but I don’t dwell on the miniscule odds of playing professional sports. And for those boys that have dreams of playing pro sports, I tend to use that knowledge to encourage positive behavior — such as eating vegetables and making good grades (so they can play in college).

For middle schoolers, I especially push that they need to get and keep their grades up. I let them know that their academic mindset and efforts in middle school sets the tone for their high school years. And I let them know that if a college scout sees that their report card is full of C’s and D’s, he won’t even waste his time.

It’s trickier in high school. Most of these young men claim as a cousin someone who played professional sports. And they’ve bought into the lie that a little bit of skill can earn you a multi-million dollar contract. But I have to be honest with them. I let them know that being paid to play sports  is an extreme rarity, and that even those who make it to the NFL play an average of two years. Even if some does make it to that level, he’ll always need something to fall back on.

And I try to let them know that I’m happy with the choices I made. I enjoyed being a laboratory chemist for almost 10 years. I loved being a children’s pastor, and I’m grateful to now be working with youth in Allendale.

And I’m happily married with three great kids. I wouldn’t trade any of these realities for a chance of playing pro.

And I’m glad that, especially through coaching football in Allendale, I get to have relationships with kids that lead to these questions.

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