United States Sports Academy
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The Sport Digest - ISSN: 1558-6448

What Are the Odds of Becoming a Professional Athlete?


The dream of many high school athletes and their parents is that someday the athlete will enter the lucrative world of professional sports. But many people do not understand just how unlikely a career choice this is. Much has already been written about the athlete who, after years of ignoring academics and being passed through classes in high school and college, is left with nothing when the professional dream doesn’t work out. It’s the athlete who suffers the consequence of finally finding himself with no education, job, or trade. But while it’s easy to blame the athlete for not taking advantage of the educational opportunities presented along the way, many times coaches and parents are also complicit in this outcome.

The NCAA has compiled statistics on the number of high school athletes who continue their sport participation at the intercollegiate and professional levels. The data covers men’s and women’s basketball, football, baseball, ice hockey, and men’s soccer. These are team sports that have well-established professional leagues in the United States.

Basketball and football, the most visible of high school and college sports, have a very low percentage of athletes who play in high school and then eventually move up to the professional ranks. In men’s basketball, for example, there is only a .03% chance of a pro career. This means that of the almost 156,000 male, high school senior basketball players only 44 will be drafted to play in the NBA after college, and only 32 women (.02%) out of just over 127,000 female, high school senior players will eventually be drafted. In football the odds are slightly better, with .08% or 250 of just over 317,000 high school senior players being drafted.

The sport with the most professional opportunities is baseball, with high school players having a .4% chance of playing professionally. Though still far less than 1%, the number of opportunities within baseball’s professional development system helps to increase this percentage. Baseball drafts about 600 NCAA athletes from the 6700 college seniors each year, a number that is far higher than any other professional sport and which represents a need to feed its large farm system.

These NCAA numbers provide the uncomfortable facts. High school and college sports provide the professional leagues with the new blood they need each year, but it is unrealistic to rely on the educational system to launch a professional sports career; the numbers simply don’t support it.


National Collegiate Athletics Association, (2010, April 20). Estimated probability of competing in athletics beyond the high school interscholastic level. Retrieved 1 October 2010 from: http://www.ncaa.org/wps/portal/ncaahome?WCM_GLOBAL_CONTEXT=/ncaa/NCAA/Academics%20and%20Athletes/Education%20and%20Research/Probability%20of%20Competing/

Mr. Price is a faculty member at the United States Sports Academy. He formerly served as executive director and head coach of the Saluki Swim Club in Carbondale, Illinois. He has worked in Malaysia and Brunei as part of an Academy project team, focusing on developing age-appropriate sports programs at local and national levels.