Sports as a Career

I read an article from the Philippine Daily Inquirer yesterday about Jeson Patrombon’s decision to skip college for at least a year to focus on his tennis career.  In contrast, the Philippines’ other junior ace, Francis Casey Alcantara, chose to attend Fresno University on an athletic scholarship. Patrombon is one of the Philippines’ eminent junior tennis standouts. The Iligan-city native is currently 30th in the ITF junior rankings.

Read the PDI’s “Patrombon Chooses Tennis over Studies”

The stocky Patrombon had reached the second round of the French Open juniors competition. In the Inquirer article, he aims to be the first-ever Filipino to reach a Grand Slam singles event in the open era (Felicissimo “Mighty Mouse” Ampon once competed with distinction in Roland Garros).

Reading the article reminded me of the legendary John McEnroe’s approach on developing future tennis stars. The mercurial McEnroe, a revered figure in international tennis, advocates a holistic approach to tennis, where promising talents are allowed to live like any other kid his/her age. This is in stark contrast to McEnroe’s brother Patrick who espouse a sports-school based infrastructure.

Read ESPN’s article on McEnroe’s alternative tennis academy

Back in my days as a college-level athlete, I was always faced with the dilemma of prioritizing sport over academics (or vice-versa). Since I was a student-athlete, my role as a student came first. Besides, being a professional track & field athlete was nothing but a pipe dream. Reaching the Olympic final was just a far-flung dream! I knew for a fact that the sport, no matter how passionate I am for it, cannot encompass my future career.

But if I were given the skills to compete in the highly-competitive global athletics circuit, I would have answered a resounding “Yes!” to the offer.

On one hand, I see the wisdom of John McEnroe’s approach. A single-minded compulsion for one particular goal can be a double-edged sword. It threatens to consume one’s being, if the athlete is not careful. The pressure of elite-level sport can make the most resolute of athletes succumb (think Jennifer Capriati and Martina Hingis). If an athlete is bound to spend a good part of his/her best years spending time in various hotel rooms around the world, why not provide the athlete a simple, nondescript childhood?

On the other hand, the contrasting Nietzschean philosophy bodes well for one’s athletic development. Truly, living and breathing the sport 24/7 can do wonders for one’s game. And if one’s passion indeed lies in pursuing the sport, why not dedicate every single living moment of life for this passionate pursuit?

I wish the best for Patrombon. Amongst all other Filipinos his age, Patrombon has taken the road less traveled.

It’s high time someone from our country qualifies for a Grand Slam.

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