Thursday, 28 January 2010

Living the Dream

Last week I wrote about how the world is shrinking for pro athletes. In that article, I focussed on those athletes at the top of their chosen sports, and decided that Tennis probably gives an athlete the best chance to travel the world while competing at the top.

You don’t have to be at the very top of the tree for sport to give you the opportunity to work in other countries however. You don’t even necessarily need to be an athlete.

A friend made a comment in last week’s blog about Formula One drivers travelling the world in pursuit of the F1 championship. While the majority of the races are still in Europe, they also travel to North and South America, Asia and even my home town of Melbourne, Australia.

While this would be a perk for the drivers, it’d also be a lot of fun for the support crew, of which Formula One teams have many, including pit crew, engineers, mechanics etc. While many of these guys would likely never have considered that they could be a pro athlete, they’re getting a chance to travel the world because of their chosen career.

With my own lack of athletic ability – combined with chronic laziness as a youngster – I always knew I was unlikely to ever make a career as an athlete. I have, however, been given the opportunity to get a job at one of the biggest sporting events in the world – the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver starting next month, as one of the 50,000 strong work force helping the games go off smoothly. While my role is not directly related to any of the events, to be a part of such a big event is something I’ve always wanted to do.

There are, however, plenty of people who do manage to make a living while actually competing in their chosen sports. While living in the UK and Ireland, I came across a number of Australians (and New Zealanders) playing Rugby in the lower level leagues across the British Isles. They were all paid, but for some it was not much more than room and board, and others who were merely set up with a good job in return for playing. The thing they all had in common was, they’d prefer to be in another country playing the sport they love, rather than going home and getting a “real” job.

Two team sports in particular, offer opportunities for players to ply their trade all over the world – basketball and football (Soccer).

Football, being the world’s most popular sport, is played everywhere and offers players at many levels, the chance to make some kind of an income playing almost anywhere in the world. The majority of players chosen for Australia’s national team – the Socceroos – at the coming FIFA World Cup will be players based outside of Australia. However, as this list of Aussies playing football overseas shows, for every Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka or Tim Cahill, there is another five guys you’ve never heard of playing in the lower leagues of Europe and Asia, and even in the MLS in the USA.

Basketball has offered Americans who weren’t good enough for the NBA to play professional basketball around the globe for over 30 years. As noted last week though, with the standard of play in Europe and other parts of the world increasing, the flow of players between countries is now at its highest level ever.
My favourite example of a guy who has made an enviable career out of basketball, without ever dominating, is David Patrick.

Patrick was born in Bermuda, raised in Australia and received a scholarship to one of the top schools in NCAA Division one basketball, Syracuse University. He didn’t get a chance to play much in his one season at Syracuse, but the team had great success as the fairytale story in the 1996 tournament, making it all the way to the 1996 NCAA final, before eventually losing to Kentucky. After his freshman season, he transferred to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette where he was given more playing time and earned himself his degree.

Patrick then embarked on a professional basketball career, where he played in the Australian NBL for the Canberra Cannons, before heading overseas where he played several seasons in England and Spain.

Since retiring as a player, David Patrick has continued to make a living in basketball as an assistant coach with the St Mary’s “Gaels” in Division one college basketball back in the USA.

While David didn’t have the sort of career you dream about as a kid, he has managed to make a career out of the sport he loves, while playing professionally in three countries and also converting his talent into a degree. To me, that’s an incredibly successful career, and one that many other young Australians currently playing basketball in the US college system could look to emulate.

Some will of course go on to have long professional basketball careers, and others will choose a career outside of the sport. Those fringe players that wish to prolong their careers, however, now have a better chance to do that than ever, and they can do it while competing all over the world.

For mine, that’s living the dream.

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