Olympic swimmer chooses college over money

 In Coaches, Pressure, Professional & Olympic Athletes


Katie Ledecky deferred entrance in Stanford for 1-year so she could train for the Olympics. Katie will be headed to Rio and is expected to gain 3 gold medals but as exciting as that is, it’s not the end of the story. Because Katie made the decision to attend college “she agreed when she signed a letter of intent to swim for the Cardinal in exchange for tuition, books and housing precludes her from a potential seven-figure financial payoff through endorsements and paid appearances” (When an Olympian Goes to College, Riches Stay Out of Reach).

Still not the end of the story…Katie not only had great potential with swimming but also piano. “If Ledecky had applied herself to the piano instead of swimming and earned a music scholarship to Arizona State, she would have been free to test her value in the open market while working toward her degree. But why does accepting endorsement money and racing in college have to be an either-or proposition? The rules of amateurism that severely curb the earning potential of college student-athletes do not apply to college student musicians ” (When an Olympian Goes to College, Riches Stay Out of Reach)

There’s always a lot of conversation around whether or not an athlete should go ‘pro’ or go to college. I know it’s not an easy decision and it’s based on so many parameter. Going pro and getting endorsements can be so attractive but there are so many benefits for an athlete going to college. College adds to an athlete’s life experience and helps prepare them to be a professional athlete: individuation, financial independence, developing social skills, learning, growing, building confidence and teamwork. Not to mention my all time favorite: getting a degree and developing the necessary mental skills for life outside of sport.

For many there’s a lot of fear around not going professional immediately upon realizing you are that good: what if this opportunity never comes around again? Why wouldn’t it? If you are that good why wouldn’t you still be that good after 4 years of experience swimming at Stanford? The next fear I hear is: what if I get hurt and can’t go pro after college? the chances of getting hurt are always there. The conversation usually ends on the subject of money: but I can start making money now. Yes, you absolutely can start making money now but making money also puts a lot of pressure on swimming.

I know many athletes who wished they had taken advantage of college and all the benefits before going pro, because going pro aint easy. Many of my clients have also found it very difficult to go back and attend college after a life in professional or Olympic sports.

When it comes to the endorsement piece, Bob Bowman’s quote says it well: “If Katie Ledecky goes to Stanford and she has a deal with a suit company, does that take away from what she’s doing there, does that give her an unfair advantage?” I don’t know that that changes anything except for her bank account” (When an Olympian Goes to College, Riches Stay Out of Reach).

It sounds like Katie liked the piano but found her passion in swimming. She didn’t ask for my opinion but I think she’s doing the right thing: following her passion and attending college.

Happy day!

Dr. Michelle

Photo cred: commons.wikimedia.org

Article cred: When an Olympian Goes to College, Riches Stay Out of Reach

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