I recently finished binge-watching Netflix's Last Chance U - a six-part documentary series about the 2015 football program at East Mississippi Community College (EMCC). EMCC is a breeding ground for football players looking to play (or return to) college football at four-year schools.

And they are good at it - this year, EMCC is sending 25 players on to four-year universities at places like Texas Tech, Pitt, Mississippi State, Purdue, and others. If you haven't heard of Last Chance U, check out the trailer below. 

I am no real fan of football, the NCAA, or the NFL (sorry, football fans) - for reasons that probably deserve a separate blog post. Last Chance U caught my attention anyway because of the human stories surrounding the kids playing at EMCC.

So many of them have backgrounds similar to my own or friends and family I know....being from small towns, growing up in poverty, having tragic childhood backstories, looking for ways to transcend beyond their current circumstances. I also noticed a common thread that seemed to run through many of their stories -- football is THE ONLY way out of the hood for them.

Most of them didn't have any plans beyond football at EMCC if they didn't get chosen by a four year college (at least among the stories told in the series). Interviews with their relatives and family members emphasized this point. This sparked a discussion between me and my husband about the significant, and seemingly growing, emphasis that many people place on professional sports in the lives of kids - especially in the African-American community and especially with black boys.

Even with Last Chance U, it profiles mostly black players - there's really only one white player profiled. He's a QB who, ironically or not, is the only one who mentions any semblance of a back up plan. And he ends up needing to use it. 

Coupled with my binge-watch, I saw a Facebook friend's post that "[the] Saddest statement I have ever heard is a kid saying, 'The only way I can get out the hood is playing basketball or football.'" There was a significant discussion through his post about all of this, which I read with great interest.  

Since this issue has been on my mind for a bit, I decided to do some research and the stats are even worse than I thought. I'm dropping them here for anyone has kids, works with kids, or is generally interested in how to talk to kids about preparing for the future. 

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) does research each year on how many college athletes end up playing professional sports. Here are the 2017 NCAA results for some of the most popular sports. The red column indicates the % of NCAA players who go to major professional teams. Note that for men's basketball and football, there's a 1.1 to 1.5% chance for an NCAA athlete to go pro, and a less than 1% chance for women's basketball players to go pro: 

If you extrapolate this out to high school athletes, the numbers are even more stark. Here's what USA Today discovered using 2016's statistics (which are very similar to 2017):  

So, breaking this down.... A male high school kid has a 0.03% chance of going to the NBA and a 0.08% chance of going to the NFL. The numbers are even worse for female basketball players looking to go to the WNBA.

Logically, it makes little sense to overemphasize a path that very few people will traverse. And though I won't get into the weeds of average career lengths (or the physical toll on the body)....Here's a little information: NFL careers last, on average, for 3.3 years. NBA? 4.8 years. MLB/NHL? About 5.5 years. Yes, an athlete can make a lot of money over this short time, but it takes discipline and a plan to allow that money to sustain a person who has retired by age 30-35 with a good +40 years left to live. 

This isn't to say there aren't significant benefits to sports, especially early in life. I learned many of my best lessons while playing basketball for both my dad as a elementary student in the local church league (shout out to the Second Baptist Angels!) and Coach Aubrey Pompey at Aiken High School, who was inducted into the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2016.

I had moments of shine on the court, but I was no superstar. In addition, my parents and Coach Pompey emphasized to me that I need to have a plan, backup plan, backup plans to my backup plans, and multiple options after that. They also made sure we also focused on education. I don't think I ever believed that the only route out of my small town was athletics, though granted I wasn't a superstar athlete. But, we all know stories of the best person to play X from our high school who didn't make it. 

At any rate, what else can parents, teachers, and mentors suggest to their children in the face of such odds? I am a firm believer in not dashing a kid's hopes and dreams -- so if professional sports is one of their goals, more power to them. There will be some people who make it to the pros and who cultivated those dreams since childhood.  

But, as odds are definitely not in most kids' favor, there must be other options, right? How can you steer kids to multiple options?

Here's a start:

First off, everyone has certain talents and gifts. There are some good resources out there that allow kids to plug in information about their interests and receive some suggestions about possible career paths. In the U.S., the Department of Education offers something called O*Net Interest profiler. There's also a lot of information on the Department of Education's Career Search page.

Of course, one's talents can be used in a lot of different ways. Just because a person "likes to argue," doesn't mean they will make a great lawyer. A person with great oratory skills could follow any number of career paths.    

If a kid is interested in sports, perhaps coaching or other careers related to athletics are a possibility. In 2012, the average NCAA football coach had a salary of $1.64 million. According to ESPN several years ago, the average salary for NFL assistant coaches was in the $150,000-$175,000 range, and position coaches were making $400,000 or more per season. There are all kinds of jobs in sports that last longer and provide greater financial security. 

Outside of sports (or perhaps inside sports, depending on a person's aims), Salary.com's 7 careers for the future outlines career paths that aren't likely to be automated or eliminated any time soon. Here's the list:

  1. Healthcare
  2. Information Technology
  3. Alternative Energy
  4. International Law
  5. Content Creation
  6. Marketing
  7. Financial Analysts

Recent research has also shown that students who take engineering classes have best chance of becoming billionaires. More than a fifth of the world’s wealthiest people studied the subject in college (even if they later dropped out), accounting for almost twice as many billionaires’ degrees as the next most popular choice.

In addition, perhaps not everybody needs or has the capacity for four, seven, or ten years in college. Getting a trade, through either a community college or apprenticeship, can be equally as rewarding and lucrative.

In fact, very smart economists have suggested that more young people get a trade in fields like utility work, power, carpentry, welding, etc. These jobs are necessary and often well-paid. Learning a trade can be much less expensive and provide much greater avenues out of the hood. The average electrician, for example, makes $5,000 a year more than the average college graduate. Here's a site that helps people figure out what trade is best for them.

For one small list of trades that actually pay people to learn them (called apprenticeships), check out this list, which I got from The Simple Dollar. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts exceptional growth for many of these industries until at least 2022, which have an average salary of at least $50,000:

  1. Elevator Installers and Repairers
  2. Pile-Driver Operators
  3. Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters
  4. Electricians
  5. Structural Iron and Steel Workers
  6. Mechanical Insulation Workers
  7. Brickmasons, Blockmasons, and Stonemasons
  8. Carpenters
  9. Solar Photovoltaic Installers
  10. Cement Masons and Concrete Finishers

Also, of course, there's the entrepreneurship route. Here are some recent stats on entrepreneurs in the United States:

Obviously, there are infinitely more options than I can write about here. I just hope this post provides some folks with the tools they need to provide kids with some more things to think about. As everybody's grandma used to say, there's more than one way to skin a cat. And there's definitely more than one way out of the hood.    

 

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