Rethinking youth fitness (part 3)

Posted on January 8, 2016

(Last Updated On: April 6, 2016)

This is a seven part series.

While you’re getting good at sports, you’re not getting good at something else

One morning I was listening to the Dan Patrick show. Dan was talking about Robert Smith, a former running back for Ohio State who had a great pro career. He mentioned Smith had issues when he was in college because he wanted to be pre-med, but the coaching staff kept trying to steer him away from that. One day they advised him to miss his organic chemistry lab, and he temporarily quit the team over it.

I told my girlfriend this story and her response was, “Oh yeah. They did that at Oklahoma [where she pitched].  Tried to make sure a lot of us took easy majors. Some of my teammates have done quite well since being there, but it took them until almost 30 to get their real degrees. Like one, just now, started their dental career. And another finished physical therapy school, but she was probably 28 when that got done.” (Many are done with PT school by 25.)

My teammates in college were so far behind in math, I ended up tutoring a good amount of them. Calculus was a prereq at our college, and the first year I did a lot of calculus tutoring. The thing about math is it all builds on itself. This is why math classes are often the only classes where the final will encompass the entire semester. A psych final will be the last four or five weeks of the semester’s material. A math final will be the entire 16 weeks. A final which will consist of all the math you’ve ever learned. You can’t do calc if you don’t know algebra; you can’t do algebra if you don’t know fractions; you can’t do anything if you can’t add or subtract or multiple or divide.

I was tutoring calc to some, algebra to many others…and fractions to some others. 19 year old guys who didn’t know how fractions worked.

No, this wasn’t an intelligence thing. If you can learn a college football playbook, you can learn fractions. Five year olds learn fractions. These guys didn’t know this stuff because they had never bothered to learn it.

And again, the better you are, the more true this tends to be. The better you are, the more likely you’re in a position where coaches are steering you away from harder material. The better you are, the more you can get away with not being good at other things in primary and secondary education. Maybe your parents think you’re going pro and don’t consider endorsing a fallback plan. Or you skate by because the coach helps you out. You might only get into college because of your playing ability. Academically you should be in community college but you end up at a university. Get to college, and hey, don’t worry, you’ll be guided towards an easier major anyways. Or those professors who love the sports department.

Thing is, what do you do once you graduate? It can be tough to turn a sociology degree into money, particularly when you picked the major not even knowing what sociology is, and had no thoughts of going to grad school. (I have nothing against sociology, my girlfriend has that degree (she wanted to do it), but they’re a common athlete major (communications people are nodding their heads too), and, deciding grad school isn’t for her for now, she’s never found a direct use for that degree in her career (maybe indirectly it helps).) Oh, and your below average GPA -tough to have as good of a GPA as others when you don’t have the time to study they have- probably puts you below the grad school acceptance threshold anyways. You may very well have to retake upwards of 10 classes, just to apply to grad school. And take the GRE…which involves fractions.

Say you’re a stud athlete growing up. We’ll say you’re so good, you make it to the professional level and play until you’re 30. An amazing career.

But now what? What are you good at besides that one sport? If you’re not going into coaching or sports commentary (assuming you even have those skills), what can you do? Is there any job besides an entry level one you could conceivably be hired at? All those summers you could have gotten work experience you were training for your sport.

-> And no, it’s not guaranteed you’re rich, or have enough money to live the rest of your life. I trained the brother of a NFL athlete. His brother has been playing 11 seasons. He’s a very good player. He estimates when you hear about a NFL player’s salary, they take home 10% of whatever the reported number is. That blew my mind. Then he went:

~50% to taxes.

~15% to an agent.

~15% to a manager / public relations.

~5-10% for financial planner. (Who often steals money by taking advantage of a 20 something year old who is financially illiterate.)

~5% to health insurance / pension fund.

And most won’t play out the full (non-guaranteed) contract!

Plus, you’re making this money in your 20s. How many of you are or were smart about money in your 20s? How many make more money only to proportionately spend more money?

In the least, the options list is incredibly small. Professionally, at 30, you’re practically, what, an 18 year old again? This is why my girlfriend’s teammates had to essentially start school all over. Dental school doesn’t care how many homeruns you hit.

-> Sports make it even tougher in that if you’re playing in college, you have to take certain classes and a certain amount. You can’t take a light semester because you’re exploring your inner buddha. You have to take them even if you have no interest or desire, because it’s a requirement to be on the field.

Certain majors require four very structured years. It’s not a coincidence these are the highest paying majors. If at any point after 18 you decide you want to do one of these majors, you’re playing catch up. As an athlete though, you had to take other classes before you figured out what you wanted to do. As the regular person, you at least had the opportunity to not waste your time and money. Even with a scholarship, you end up going back and paying for classes you missed.

As the regular student it’s not that bad to catch up. A typical semester is 15 credits. Maybe you take 17-19 a few times. As an athlete? Good luck taking extra classes. And no, you can’t just catch up over the summer. You need to train and go to camp over the summer. Nor are all classes are offered over the summer. The better earning the degree, the more true this is. You can’t take junior level STEM classes in a month long summer session.

The college I went to, when the coaches came to my house for recruiting, they asked me what I wanted to major in. I told them kinesiology / exercise science. “Oh, no problem. That’s our bio program.” This sounded strange, but they said plenty of others do the same thing. I got to school, realized NO other football players were in the program, realized it was NOTHING similar to kinesiology. (Reality of recruiting: You will be lied to a lot.) When I transferred (this is one reason I did) and stopped playing, I took 23 credits one semester and 22 another, two classes in a winter, a class and internship over the summer, just so I could graduate in four years. Two years worth of classes in a year. That couldn’t have been done if still playing.

Now say you’re the more typical person. You stop playing around 18, but we’ll say you played sports pretty seriously. Practice five days a week, maybe 10 hours a week, you get the idea. While you’re doing that, someone else is learning computer programming. Who do you think has better college opportunities, or career opportunities?

Time is finite; energy is finite. Whenever you get good at one thing, there’s something else you’re not getting good at.

-> Those who are very good at their chosen field, often started it young. Many great stand-up comedians started before 20. Many great computer scientists grew up around computers. Warren Buffet read every investment book in his local library by 10 years old. The examples of this are endless. Ask someone really good at what they do how long they’ve been doing it, and it will probably be a decade, minimum. The 20s are not throwaway years, the teens are not, nor are the single digit years. It all adds up. It’s why learning calculus is impossible at 20 if you don’t know the earlier years. You have to go back to grade school math and build up. It can be done, but have fun doing that in your 20s.

While you’re playing sports, someone else has a part-time job and is learning how sales work. By 16, someone has work experience on their resume already, while another has “Junior Varsity lacrosse player” on theirs.

Yes, I know, there is a time to be a kid and yada yada. But kids, like all humans, only have so much energy. You know what I wanted to do when I got home from a three hour football practice? Eat and do nothing. I didn’t want to do my AP Calculus homework at 7pm. Meanwhile, my classmates were home by 3pm, and were done with their AP Calc homework by 7pm. They were on to their AP Physics, then AP History. I would do AP Physics if I was coherent enough; I didn’t even sign up for AP History or AP Latin because I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle it.

-> That’s less AP credits I could have put towards college. In fact, I didn’t attempt to get any AP credits for college because my college coaches berated the incoming freshman about how hard the coursework would be. I figured instead of going right into Calc 2, I’d take Calc 1 again, to start college off with a couple easy grades. I also didn’t feel I had enough time to study for the AP tests in high school.

Looking back, I now realize how much money I could have saved (my parents) if I went to college with AP credits. My brother walked in to college with 18 credits already. That’s more than an entire semester he could cut out of college. For a lot of schools, that’s ten grand minimum saved. And he could start earning money before his classmates. Or -this is what he’s doing- he does multiple majors, giving him a leg up on others when entering the job market.

A common complaint amongst any college athlete is how much harder it is to be student athlete than regular students. It’s true. It’s not just a time thing. It’s an energy thing. One reason athletes are often not as good of students is because they can’t be. Try all the bullshit Tim Ferriss time hacks you want. Learning certain things takes time and mental resources there are no ways around.

Plus you get into the real world and you realize being in the 75th percentile of all computer programmers still means a great living, but being in the 75th percentile of college athletes means you’re done playing. That your definition of computer science is And you have no idea how you to bridge that gap. Any of the higher paying avenues (such as STEM or finance or healthcare) are going to be a huge transition. It’s tough to start the med school process in your 20s when you have zero of the prereqs done. At 17, sure. At 25, now you have bills to pay and or get to tell people you’re still living with your parents.

My girlfriend has a very good job now due to starting with the company from the bottom when she was 19, because she stopped playing. If she started that bottom job in her 20s, she’d be a minimum of that amount of years behind where she is now. She’d have that amount of years of no earnings, of no experience. And we can’t discount how much harder it is to start as a sales associate -or to start from the bottom- in your mid-20s than it is at 19.

One of my former teammates is in med school, but he’s 29 and starting his residency next year. By the time he’s done with school he’ll be ~35. About five years behind other doctors. Five years older than the other doctors pulling 80 hour weeks during residency. Five years behind in earnings, likely delaying retirement by five years (minimum; we won’t go into compound interest here). Five years more before he can really start paying off his undergrad loans he fortunately had his parents to cover (minimum-  we probably should go into compound interest). Five years more of living with his wife’s parents. Five years potential delay until being financially comfortable enough to have kids. I only single him out because this was the best athlete our athletically esteemed high school ever had. One can easily make an argument being so gifted was the impetus for him ending up behind.

Sports can easily make you behind your contemporaries in many domains. That doesn’t mean you can’t catch up…but you probably can’t.

“I’ll go into coaching”

The only thing you are in any way qualified to go into is coaching, and even that’s a stretch. Just because you were decent at a sport does not mean you can help others do the same. Again, the better the player, the more true this is. Better players can’t relate as well to having to work at the sport. To what it’s like to not be as physically gifted. A guy who could throw 95 mph is going to have a hard time coaching the 99% of his athletes who can’t throw that hard. Look at professional coaches; you’ll see few were as good as the players they’re coaching.

Furthermore, a college team, if it’s football, will have 80 guys or so. There are maybe 10 coaching positions for those 80 guys. For basketball, it’s something like four coaches for 15 players. There are always significantly less coaches than players. There aren’t enough coaching jobs to go around. Even if you get a coaching job, you still start at the bottom.

The above assumes you even have an interest in coaching. Me, my girlfriend, and most of the people with played with, had zero desire to coach after playing. A huge reason for this is the coach’s life is brutal. The stress is off the charts. You will be fired multiple times. You’re traveling like half the year. You will have to move many times. You often live in places you would never want to live. Your livelihood depends on the idiocy of the brain in its teens and early 20s. For those I saw go into coaching, very few ever spoke about doing it. They more fell into it, once they realized there was no other work they were qualified for.

If you’re thinking you’ll go into strength and conditioning coaching, that’s not easy either. There is usually one coach for each team. Depending on the level, there might be one coach for the whole university. Our strength coach in college did football, track, basketball, and more. Again, it’s not like there are many jobs of this kind.

For many universities, you need a degree in a related field, and then you need to get certified. You can’t just walk into the weight room and start coaching people.

Coaching is hardly a backup plan.

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