Most young athletes wonder what it would be like to play their favorite sport professionally. It’s only natural that a 12-year-old Little League pitcher would dream about standing on the mound at Citizen’s Bank Park and winning the World Series for the Phillies. Or a 12-year-old soccer player dreaming about scoring the winning goal in the Women’s World Cup.
But be advised; being a professional athlete isn’t as glamorous a lifestyle as it may appear from a distance.
For every athlete who signs a multimillion-dollar contract, there are countless others who toil in the hinterlands, hoping for a big-time opportunity that may never come.
For athletes coming out of college or perhaps high school, joining the professional ranks can be an unsettling experience. As a student-athlete, their daily schedules, games, practices, and perhaps their classroom and/or meal schedules are determined by a coach. They may be living in accommodations provided by their school.
Professional athletes are largely on their own. If they’re involved in a team sport, they travel with their team but are responsible for their own living expenses when the team is at home. There are long road trips and time spent away from friends and family.
And unless they have a guaranteed contract, they can be sold, traded, or released without warning.
If they’re involved in an individual sport, such as golf or tennis, they are responsible for their living and travel expenses, while their income depends on their success in competition.
In short, professional sports are a job.
The Story of Megan Franchella
Megan Franchella has done virtually everything there is to do in professional golf. She earned All-American honors at North Carolina before turning professional in 2004 and competing on what was then the Futures Tour (now the Epson Tour), a step below the LPGA Tour in the hierarchy of women’s professional golf.
Franchella earned her LPGA Tour card in 2006, and the following March earned her only LPGA win, defeating Annika Sorenstam in a playoff. Over the course of her career, she recorded three top-10 finishes in major championships.
Franchella left the LPGA Tour following the 2013 season and caddied for a time before turning her attention to teaching the game. She’s currently a teaching professional at Philadelphia Cricket Club outside Philadelphia but still competes occasionally, most recently in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
Franchella notes how different amateur/college and professional golf actually are.
“Four rounds (in most LPGA tournaments) compared to two rounds (in college),” she said. Compared to just flying in and playing a practice round and then two rounds of golf. In college, obviously, it’s a little bit different. I think physically, it takes a little bit more work in the gym, and you see it now.
Franchella says the level of play in the women’s game is continuing on an upward path.
“I haven’t played on tour (since 2013),” she said, “but I think the game’s changed so much. If you don’t hit it 250, you’re kind of in the bottom third of the (driving distance rankings. The game’s getting longer, and the girls are getting younger and stronger, so college golf is a different ballgame now compared to the tour. It’s just completely different.”
The Story of Celine Boutier
Celine Boutier is in her fifth season on the LPGA Tour. The 28-year-old has won two tournaments and played on two European Solheim Cup teams. Before turning professional, Boutier played for a national championship team at Duke. She cities the difference between playing college golf for a team and professional golf for a paycheck. “I think for me, the mental aspect was different,” she said. “College golf is just amateur golf, honestly. “Professional golf is completely different. And mentally, I think it’s just extremely hard not to be intimidated by the players, the Inbee Parks and Jin Young Kos of the tour. You don’t necessarily have to compare yourself to other people, which I was doing my first two years.”
Making a living as a professional athlete is as demanding as many other professions and more demanding than many others.
A career as a professional athlete is a worthy goal. But youngsters and their parents should be aware that the road to success is long and filled with twists and turns. There is nothing wrong with deciding to enjoy a sport for its own sake as opposed to relying on it for one’s livelihood.