Stardom or doom: Reflecting on what it takes to become a professional athlete 

by | Feb 6, 2024 | Opinion

From kickabouts with your best buddies in local playgrounds to renowned stadiums across the world. From sipping lime juice after these playground sessions to constantly being under the limelight. This is the immense leap that athletes must make at a tender age to become world-class professionals. No matter how good they are with their hands and feet, this career trajectory is not easy. It requires the combination of many elements in order to become the best. 

Moreover, with the advancement of technology, there are other unusual factors that these individuals need to take into account to succeed. The kid needs to become an adult pronto, and in turn, this adult suddenly becomes the saviour that fans have been craving for. Can professional athletes take the heat, or will they burn under pressure? There isn’t a concrete answer, but there are a few crucial requirements to become a professional athlete. 

Talent is obviously an important aspect of becoming a professional athlete. Talent takes you to the doorstep of opportunity, but a quick search on Google will reveal the quotes of many scholars and sports pioneers echoing the same thing: talent alone is never enough. In order to kick that door down, talent must be combined with hard work, dedication, determination and the ability to overcome adversity. The G.O.A.T of basketball to many, Michael Jordan, would have been a sacrificial lamb if he banked on his talent alone. Sure, he would have been good, but missing 9000 shots would have made most other athletes give up the sport. To quote Jordan himself, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” 

This mindset is shared by other sporting giants too. They embrace their talents, but also understand the need to do more to remain at the highest levels consistently. At the age of 39, Lebron James is still flying in the air and making ridiculous shots that will put his younger compatriots to shame. Similarly, at 38, Cristiano Ronaldo just finished 2023 as the world’s top scorer in soccer, fending off other players younger than him too.

All of the lights by Kanye West is an apt song when discussing the number of cameras and fame that professional athletes must deal with. Athletes are always under the microscope, and their every decision is scrutinised. The best example to illustrate this would be former soccer player and global icon David Beckham. He performed well on the pitch, but fans were equally crazy about his performance off of it. From his head, to his toe and to his partner, Beckham was in every section of the news daily.

 Young athletes need to be able to balance their careers with the kind of fame and the fortune that comes with it. With the power of social media too, athletes now are way more exposed to criticism and praise literally by the minute, and how they respond on these platforms can have drastic consequences. 

For instance, basketball player Ja Morant was suspended for showing a firearm on social media.  He may not have asked for fame, but fame coexists with sports. And whether he or other athletes like it, they are often looked up to and are the source of inspiration to budding athletes worldwide. 

There is a famous Malay proverb which says, “rambut sama hitam, hati lain-lain.” It means same black hair, but different hearts. In other words, each person is different and will react differently in similar situations. Some of these athletes might have been mischievous when they were younger, and some might have been more disciplined. Nevertheless, they are almost forced to become role models to younger children who look at them and think their heroes could do no wrong. But these heroes were once kids, too.

Thankfully, many sporting institutions are now conducting media training to equip athletes with ways to deal with being in the spotlight. For example, the Western Michigan Broncos organized a media training program that was introduced to prepare athletes and coaches for the various challenges and responsibilities that come with being in the public eye. 

Being an athlete is no joke. Some want it to be a regular 9 to 5. Ask “The Joker” Nikola Jokic, and he will tell you. To quote him, “When I finish my career, I really wish nobody knows me … like being a normal person, like go drink with your buddy … and nobody’s going to make a big deal of that.”

At the end of the day, athletes are human beings, too. They do not wear capes or have magical powers. But what they do is considered magical by many. It might not be easy to become a modern-day professional athlete, but if you intend on becoming one, then sacrifices must be made to enjoy the long journey ahead. 

Cover photo via Canva

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