WE live in a time where the age of athletes who receive large salaries and lucrative endorsement deals is getting lower, seemingly, by the year. And though the necessary age to receive the wages may vary, the level of professionalism from the recipient should not.
From high school basketball phenoms signing multi-million dollar NBA contracts to teenage Olympic medalists endorsing products, to a corporation, it all boils down to one thing: marketability. This is not to take away from these highly talented and well-deserving athletes. Nowadays, however, the business/marketing end of these deals seem to weigh a little more heavily on who these corporations target than individual talent per se.
Twitter, Facebook and countless other social media sites have provided the world with access to even the smallest of achievements. It’s caused success to be perceived simply in outward appearance and dollar signs. It also produced a sea of self-promotion from individuals dying to be recognized among the Lebron Jameses and Gabrielle Douglases. How much these elite athletes earn is retweeted and shared throughout the internet daily. The cars, the houses, the things they attain is constantly flashed across the television.
But just as consistently shared on the web or fed through gossip TV is the ugly reality of some of the high-profile names. Unless you’ve been in isolation for the past few years, you’ve read about celebrities snubbing their fans, karate chopping their girlfriends or head-butting their spouses. Having high standards on and away from the camera has taken a back seat to obtaining outward success by any means necessary.
What’s your motivation?
As a professional basketball player in the Philippines for the past six years, my own small success gave me a glimpse of what true professionalism is. Whether observing from afar or living it through personal experiences, I’ve realized that handling yourself as a professional away from the bright lights is just as important as when you’re working in your element. Eager and motivated young players contact me weekly for information on how they might play in the Philippines. I’ve overheard amateur leaguers talk about what they want to buy, asking questions about salaries and game bonuses. I grew up believing that it’s never wise to count your chickens before they hatch, so I tend to deviate from those conversations. “If you work hard, have the right mindset and take care of yourself off the court, everything else will take care of itself” is what I offer to them. But from the looks in their eyes, I can tell that what I had to say was of no interest. And rightfully so. I hadn’t hit on any of the keywords or phrases like direct deposit, monthly, game bonus, and, but not limited to, housing allowance or “under the table.”
What most don’t care to consider is the quote from the most famous book of all-time, the Bible: “To everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.” The frustrating truth is that a lot of talented athletes want all at once the fame and what fame can bring before proving themselves deserving of it. Another sad truth is that when some (not all) do finally make it to the top and are deemed worthy of celebrity status, they are eventually magnified in the media for a public display of stupidity.
In my modest experience as a sports mogul, I know that keeping an unblemished image in the public eye is difficult. Every misstep is susceptible to misconceptions spread through social and mainstream media. It’s not fair but that’s just how it goes, which is why being a professional entails much more than playing your sport and collecting a check. As a rookie coming into the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), handling myself off the court, though mentioned, was only slightly emphasized at the players’ orientation. I consider myself fortunate to have had faith, friends, and the trial and error of other players to act as a guide. You can learn how to conduct yourself as a pro if you put yourself in a position to adjust. If you’re one of the charmed athletes making millions or an up and coming cager with your sights set on super stardom, consider implementing these suggestions into your approach to your career:
• Money as a motivation is a mistake.
Once you sign your contract, let your agent deal with the upkeep. Average players focus on adding up numbers. You don’t want to be average.
• Coach is authority, whether you like it or not.
You might not agree with all of the coach’s decisions. Unless you can respectfully approach him about it, focus on what you can control: your performance. Don’t gripe. A poor attitude affects the team.
• Wrong place/wrong time
You can’t help accidental mishaps. But you can lessen the odds of being in a bad position by cutting out the places that you know are unhealthy for you and your career.
• Bad company corrupts good character.
Keep people around you who have your best interests in mind and want more out of life than trying to benefit from your success. If your current “friends” are going nowhere, there’s a good chance they’ll cause you to go with them.
• Smile through the anger.
After a bad game, a loss or a frustrating day, people will still want photos, autographs or some sort of response from you. It would be wise to start practicing the Mona Lisa smile, keeping in mind that you won’t have to hold it as long as she did.
• Leave your pajamas at home.
It’s fine to dress nice and keep a fresh haircut or hairdo. If you’d rather downplay your fashion preferences, that’s fine, too. But don’t walk around the mall looking like you live on top of it and you only came down to catch breakfast.
• Vent frustrations to your friends via phone, text or email, not on Twitter.
Chances are, you have a growing number of followers and many eyes are watching your every social media move. Unless you’re looking for controversy, keep your status updates clear of bad referee calls, broken-heartedness and potty mouth (remember children are watching).
• Special handshakes are for teammates, not upper management.
With your team, you can flip the hands, jump, throw an invisible object in the air, and let the other shoot it down all you want. But when it comes to greeting the big boss, the management or the corporate heads, put the compact mirrors, cameras, double-slaps, backhand high fives and shoulder hugs away. Shake their hand with a firm grip, locking at the base between the index and thumb.
• Media will do what media does.
There’s no way around the reporters who try to formulate rumors and expose every bit of personal info that they can. Don’t shun them, it’s just what they do. But also, don’t give them a reason to single you out.
• Stop complaining, put in the work.
The media, the inevitable hating, your gripe about the team system, whatever it might be, acknowledge it, then put it aside. At this point, the greatest control you have is over the amount of hard work you put in and your disciplines. So get to work!
Take a few minutes to examine yourself. What motivates you? What kind of impact do you think you have or want to have on your organization and those who look up to you? What kind of people do you surround yourself with? Are you ready to handle the hard work, dedication and self-discipline that it takes to be an all-around professional? Commit to conducting yourself as a true professional now, and it will help you become a person of great character after the contracts, fame and fortune are far gone.
If you allow the facts and figures of the star athletes to dictate your determination, your perception of success will be distorted. Understanding that there’s more to being a pro than merely playing the game will put you a step ahead of the average, if you choose to act on this knowledge. Being proactive in your approach to professionalism will not only lengthen your career, but will improve your overall approach to life and quite possibly open doors to other opportunities outside of your sport. As a professional, you have a platform: children look up to you, peers pattern themselves after you, and elders either point their grandchildren toward or away from you. Image isn’t everything, but a positive one can help you, your career and many (maybe even millions) around you.