Many athletes ask me, ”why do I need such high grades if I’m going to school for sports?” or say, ”I’m only going to school there for a year then I’m going to play professionally” or my favorite “I'm going to make lots of money, so who cares if I finish school?” I'm also pretty sure these thoughts crossed your mind as well, and I'm here to let you know that this mentality is a big problem! Having good grades as an athlete is crucial for reasons I will get into soon, but first let me just say that many of the athletes that have said these things to me were very misguided in thinking that as a professional athlete you'll make good money and be set for life. This is furthest from the truth. The main reason for needing good grades is:
Qualifying for post secondary institutions
Usually schools have a list of requirements that need to be fulfilled before they even look at you. In Canada and the USA athletes need to apply, and qualify, for whichever program they desire at the school they are wanting to play for. Now, qualifying for a school depends on the country the school is located in. For example, the NCAA wants 16 core courses for division one and two schools plus either your S.A.T. or A.C.T. scores, but in Canada they are basically only looking at your grade 12 grades and possibly your grade 11 grades. (For more information on what courses the NCAA recognizes check out this link: http://prepskills.com/sat/ncaa-eligible-courses-ontario) A part of the decision making process when it comes to choosing a school to attend and play for is to choose a school that has a program you have an interest in, otherwise it's pointless to even be getting that education in the first place and could cause you to loose focus. Choosing a program that you have as an interest for making a career out of is also crucial because even after making it pro, you need a backup plan. So the second reason for getting good grades as an athlete is:
Opening up career opportunities
So sorry if you find I am bursting your sparkly little bubbles, but let's face some facts here: Unless you are in the pro sport league in the USA with a long lasting career, you will need to use your education to start a career after your athletic life. Many pro athletes live well beyond their means and go bankrupt all without a plan B. This is especially true for football players. You can have an amazing contract one day and then it's stripped from you the very next and you never even saw a dime! Let's keep in mind that many athletes retire in their 30's, get injured and cannot continue their contract and that's it! Their career is over, the money stops rolling in, they've barely saved enough for an early retirement and they may not be entertaining enough to end up working on Inside The NBA..........
You may be saying that you're going to save all of your earnings and prepare for such a time, but let's be real, you are going to need to be educated enough to know what to actually do with that money. Where are you going to invest it? Who's going to manage it for you? What about tax time? Managing this type of money requires smarts to ensure it doesn't still end up down the drain in someone else's pockets. And for the 99% of athletes that don't make it to the NFL, NHL, or NBA and end up in other pro leagues, they don't make anywhere near the million dollar contracts that you see in the major leagues. I've even seen players working part time jobs to supplement their contracted incomes. An example would be in the CFL, some players have 4-5 month seasons where they get paid per game (which isn't even a guarantee that they will play) and they aren't paid anything in the off-season. Doctors, even nurses, make more on average, and last time I checked, we all gotta eat right? So this is why I say, study hard so in case any of this happens to you, you have a backup plan that will allow you to re-enter the workforce and feed yourself.
Getting an education is a very realistic backup plan
No one can tell the future, and well, injury and misfortune can happen. Being able to provide for yourself with a non-athletic skill will ensure your recovery back to success. Unfortunately, many young athletes don’t see past the game and don’t prepare for life (which, by the way, can be very long when you have trails and tribulations.)
In the end, aspiring athletes, it is very important that you are thinking about education and being successful outside of your sport. It may be the best decision you make for your future. It's time we see more Scholar-Athletes and hear about their smart decisions and continued success after sports rather than stories about bankruptcies or injured athletes that didn’t get back on their feet.
Good luck on that next test and shoot for the stars!