This morning, I went to my grandkids’ school to take part in a sort of career fair, meeting with 5th through 7th graders in small groups. One of the things that we did as we met each group was to ask them what they wanted to be professionally. If their answers are to be any guide, the world will soon have an overabundance of doctors and professional athletes.
Reality will almost certainly set in over the coming years for these kids. Let’s look at what the NCAA predicts for high school soccer players. According to their figures, 417,000 high school boys are playing soccer. Of those 5.7% will play in college. That’s 23,769 college players. And of those, the NCAA predicts that 1.4% or 332 will be drafted by the MLS. If those numbers are correct, then the average high school soccer player has a .08% chance of being drafted by MLS. That’s not quite 1 in 10,000 or 1 out of every 500 high school teams. The odds are even worse when it comes to basketball.
So what did we say when these 5th through 7th graders–all of them boys, by the way–indicated a desire to play professional sports? Did we say, “You’re an idiot! You’re not going to be good enough to do that. Even if your body does hold up through college, it’s probably not strong enough to do what you want to do”? Of course not. We asked them, politely, if they had a back-up plan in case that didn’t work out.
But then there’s the whole doctor thing. Just as some kids will simply not have the physical ability to play professional sports–forget about the mental habits–some kids won’t have the mental powers to make medical school happen. These kids will need good grades in reasonably demanding classes, plus they’ll need to do a decent job on the MCAT. I don’t have exact numbers like those provided by the NCAA for athletes, but I do know that in 2013, only about 40% of the 48,000 students who applied to medical school got in. We have to remember that not too many students who are clearly not med school material will be applying. Of those who do get in, perhaps 85% will graduate, but some of these middle-school would-be-doctors will simply not have what it takes.
Whether we are talking about our body or of our mind, the reality for most of us is that we typically ask too little of it rather than too much. What if those two 5th graders who proclaimed their intention to play professional soccer don’t make it? What if they only play on a high school team and have fun? Would that be terrible? What if they get some college scholarship money and get to play a game they enjoy at the same time? Wouldn’t that be awful?
Or what if the med school wannabes wash out and “only” become nurses or physical therapists? Terrible, right? What if their push to become doctors simply helps them to get better grades? I can think of many worse outcomes.
The problem that most of these kids will face, if they are typical, is that they’ll probably never know whether they were strong enough or smart enough to make those dreams a reality. They’ll probably quit on themselves at some point along the way, deciding that playing soccer or practicing medicine just isn’t worth the effort each day.
They might make that decision, but I’m not ever going to be the one to help them quit on themselves.