This morning ABC Good Morning America examined the growing number of teen girls considering breast reduction surgery so that they may have a better chance of reaching their full athletic potential. Several athletes were profiled for the story, including tennis star Simona Halep of Romania, the winner of the 2008 Junior French Open, who admitted having breast reduction operation to improve her play. Another world-caliber athlete, Jana Rawlinson of Australia (winner of the world championship in 400-meter hurdles in 2003 and in 2007), has previously owned up to having her breast implants removed to improve her chances at the 2012 Olympics. These are just two examples of women taking what many would consider extreme measures in order to reach their full athletic potential.
Opinions vary when it comes to the lengths athletes (and sometimes their families) will go in order to maximize athletic potential. In the case of women choosing breast reductions to improve on-field play, critics argue that the surgery should not be an option to simply play better tennis (or any sport for that matter). Proponents of the surgery claim otherwise and claim having big breasts not only limits athletic potential, but might also lead to more injuries as well.
Breast reductions are just one of the growing number of controversial measures athletes take to improve their game. Other examples of decisions that have been with criticism include families deciding to home school their child in order to get more training time (not because they necessarily believe home schooling is better than public schooling), or kids who are sent away to training programs and camps in order to give themselves the best possible chance to one day play professional sports (tennis academies are an example). Are these decisions any worse or different than teen girls choosing breast reduction procedures?
Understanding the Odds
Regardless of the decision a family makes when it comes to athletic performance enhancement (breast surgery, home schooling, etc.), perhaps the most important variable to consider — and the one that is most often overlooked or ignored — has to do with the odds of becoming a pro athlete, regardless of what the athlete does along that pursuit. More simply, does it really matter what a young athlete does when the odds are so overwhelmingly against him or her when it comes to one day becoming a professional athlete?
Here is some quick sport psychology data to consider — did you know that only about 5% of all high school athletes will ever go on to play college sports? This number includes DIII athletes (no scholarship money), walk-on student athletes, and partial athletic scholarships. What this means is the number of full-ride athletic scholarship athletes is well below the 5% figure. It is from this point that the numbers become even more unbelievable — of all the current college student athletes in America today, only 1.5% will ever make it to the professional athlete level! Think about that for a second – that means 98.5% of all the college athletes in the country today will see their careers end when their college eligibility is exhausted.
The point here is that regardless of the decision (extreme or not), the odds of a young athlete one day becoming a pro athlete is incredibly remote. The best advice for families considering any unusual, extreme, or controversial decisions is to think about the reasons for the decision — and then match that against the realities.