Young athletes are the wave of the future, and many of them will become the future leaders of our next generation. Whether we like to believe it or not, sports are one of the purest outlets we can find, and we look up to athletes more than anybody else. Politicians, CEOs and presidents all have a bad reputation for being shady and dishonest. Athletes don't have an ulterior motive.
The reason we love athletes is because they're only there to play their sport, and to play it well. We love the preparation, the drive and the competition that goes into it. They don't want your money or anything else, they only want to perform well and win the game.
Over time, this is where the downfall of athletes occurs. You've heard about the athletes who make millions of dollars then go broke, but you don't hear about the college athlete who played professionally for two years and now is back home and can't get a job because he didn't take school seriously. Because they were forced to train with their team, they didn't take any internships and don't have any real work experience. In school, coaches only wanted to give them the easiest classes so they can stay above a 2.0 GPA, barely eligible to play on the team.
If a player is a star in high school, the idolization starts early. The loudest voices in the athlete's ear say, "You'll be a pro someday! Yes, do your schooling, but you don't have to work too hard because one day you'll be rich!" When an athlete hears this again and again from trusted family and friends, there's no choice but to believe its validity.
From this moment, the athlete is screwed. Instead of spending their free time learning, growing and developing themselves outside of their sport, they're told, "Don't worry about that, because you'll get rich going pro!" Unless that athlete has a solid foundation of advisors, he/she will get lost in the stars.
It doesn't help that society is telling us these days, "Follow your dreams, and you can achieve anything you want!" Contrary to this belief, you can't achieve anything you want. Yes, you may be able to scale Mount Everest, but if you are a 5'5" shooting guard who isn't very quick, there is no way you're going to make the NBA. Even getting a college scholarship or playing pro somewhere, there are a limited number of spots each year, and the competition for these spots is ridiculous. It's not impossible, but the odds are highly against it.
What athletes can't control is where they end up. They don't know exactly where they will finish college, if they'll play pro, or what they'll do after their career is over. But what they can control are their weekly activities. Are they reading books on the weekend or playing video games? Are they putting in the extra hours after practice or just playing around on social media? Are they developing their minds outside of the typical schooling, or are they just getting by at school?
Athletes are seen as the leaders in this world more than anybody else. They have the most followers, get paid the most money and their every move is analyzed. Anything negative is replayed for days on SportsCenter, but positive actions don't get any mention. We see the highlights, but we don't see what goes on deep down, behind the scenes.
At the end of the movie Hoop Dreams, the star athlete from high school is seen walking down the barren street, overweight and disinterested, giving out tickets to cars that are parked illegally. Once college finished, this athlete came back home to perform a menial job with dreams of the NBA shoved deep down into his skull. If he said the letters "N-B-A" to anybody in the context of playing again, they would just laugh at him.
It's easy to get trapped into the mentality of the "successful athlete." However, all the praise and attention will one day die down, and that's when the athlete will be left to fend for himself. If that athlete wasn't developing his mind along the way, he will have a long way to go once college ends as he tries to find his place in the world.
Let's start creating well-rounded athletes from an early age... It has the best possible outcome for everybody involved.