Becoming a professional athlete is something which might seem impossible for most people, but I can tell you it’s possible. I have played professional basketball in Europe for the last 6 years, although I graduated from high school without a single NCAA Division One scholarship offer.
The road to become a professional athlete has ups and downs more frequently than you’d ever expect, but once you achieve your goal, you’ll realize it was all worth it.
Keep reading below to learn how to become a professional athlete, based off my own personal experience!
Becoming a Professional Athlete – The First Steps
If you want to become a professional athlete, the first step is developing the right mindset.
Professional athletes spend years and years training so they can reach their peak abilities, and that’s exactly what separates them from the rest of the world. Professional athletes are able to put in hard work, day after day, year after year.
Most people lose their motivation after a month or so, but pushing through is what makes or breaks professional athletes from those who finish their athletic career in high school or college.. If you want to succeed, you need to be fully committed to your goals. However, you also can’t let this journey overwhelm you.
Young athletes with hopes of becoming professional athletes are drawn by strong success motives and can become overwhelmed without even noticing. If you become overwhelmed or “burnt out,” you will fall short of your goal just like those who don’t put in enough effort.
Symptoms of stress can sometimes be very clear, such as anxiety, headaches or stomach pain, but at times, they can be subtle and unnoticeable. Such symptoms are unsteady sleep, forgetfulness, chronic fatigue, mood swings and irritability. Some other symptoms may appear, because stress manifests differently with each person.
Similarly, confidence is a major issue regarding athletic success. In many cases, very talented and gifted sportsmen and sportswomen give up on their careers because they can’t take negative feedback. You need to learn how to stay positive no matter what happens, and remain steady no matter how much stress is around you.
If you can understand these aspects of becoming a professional athlete, you can begin moving forward.
Mindfulness techniques practice moment-to-moment awareness and help you focus on the present outcomes. If you practice these techniques long enough, research has shown that it might even make structural changes to your brain, so that you will have less chance to feel stressed later on.
The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program has shown the best results, and it’s based on a series of breathing and relaxation techniques. Find a quiet place, close your eyes, and just breathe.
All you should focus on is your breath, the way the air comes in and out of your body, and how it changes your posture. Whenever your thoughts go wandering, return your focus to breathing and repeat this for 5 minutes.
You can gradually increase your practice time, but try not to do this for more than 10 minutes daily.
For More Information: Meditation Techniques for Beginners
Perfecting Your Craft
After you’ve understood what it takes mentally to become a professional athlete, the next step is putting in the work and perfecting your craft. This involves skill work in whatever sport you choose, along with improving your body to be the best athlete possible. Depending on the sport, physical training will be just as important as skill training.
Find a Good Trainer
Whether your trainer is your Dad, a friend your age, a coach, or someone else, you’ll want to find a training partner who can push you to your max. I’ve had many friends and coaches who have helped me become a professional athlete. When you train with a partner, they are there to help you with intensive workouts, motivate you, and get you through that last rep.
If you want to become a professional athlete and you don’t have someone to train with, consider getting a personal trainer. Personal trainers can help you speed up the muscle memory needed to achieve the right form and movement for exercises. No matter if you’re looking for personal training in Hong Kong or any other place where you’re based, having a good trainer will make a huge difference!
You can get a personal trainer to work on your body physically, but you will also want someone to help work on your sport-specific skills.
For example, Coach Kieran Begley is a personal friend of mine who I have known for about 10 years. When I arrived at Marist College as a freshman, Coach Kieran was working as a Graduate Assistant for our basketball team, and I can tell you for a fact he understands basketball on a very high level.
Check out this video of my teammate (Chavaughn Lewis) and I training with Kieran a few years ago:
oach Kieran has been coaching, training, and developing basketball players ranging from 4-years old to Professional basketball players such as myself for the last 15 years!
I can tell you Kieran is a true student of the game, and he is constantly analyzing film and learning new techniques.
I visit Kieran every summer to workout when I am home, and he is the only basketball trainer I have worked with (outside of the teams I have played for) since I have become a professional.
Here’s another video of us working on some of my post moves:
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If you want to become a professional athlete, find a good trainer for both your sport and improving your physical body, and get working!
Develop Your Core
If you want to become a professional athlete, you’re going to need a strong core. Whether you’re a golfer, a basketball player, a football player or any other sport, having a strong core is essential.
There are plenty of ways to strengthen your core but the best workouts for the core include, but aren’t limited to: Pallof presses, medicine ball or cable chops, bird dogs, side planks, and planks.
Regardless of the other skill training or strength training you’re doing, take it from me, you want to focus on developing your core as soon as possible.
Related Reading: Alternatives to Crunches
Yoga for Athletes
Even if you are a young athlete looking to become a professional athlete, one of the most important pieces of advice I can give you is to take up the practice of yoga.
After practicing yoga for nearly four years, I can confidently say that yoga is an incredible form of activity for athletes and all athletes should incorporate yoga into their routines as much as possible.
I began practicing yoga during my second season as a professional basketball player, after I broke my ankle which would end up keeping me out of action for nearly 9 months.
Yoga has helped me improve muscular imbalances, become more stable, reduce chronic pain throughout various parts of my body, and I believe it has significantly lengthened my career.
Several unique benefits which you can find in yoga include:
- Helps to Stabilize Breathing and Increase Lung Capacity
- Reduces Mental Stress, Anxiety, and More
- Increases Your Flexibility, Strength, and Daily Amount of Energy
- Improves Your Body Harmony and Balance
- Leads to the Improvement and Preservation of Proper Blood Circulation
- Enhances the Digestive System
- Reduces Physical Stress Through Improved Body Management
- Improves Self Confidence and Self Perception
- Enhances Your Ability to Concentrate and Focus
- Furthers the Connection Between Your Mind and Body
- Improves Your Overall Fitness Level and Abilities
According to a study published in Athletic Therapy Today,
“Any athlete can reap the benefits of practicing yoga; it is especially valuable for preventing injuries in explosive sports (e.g., sprinting, tennis, basketball, baseball). Some specific reasons athletic trainers might want to consider using yoga in their injury-prevention programs include increased core stability, increased flexibility and range of motion, and increased relaxation.”
Furthermore, according to a study in the International Journal of Yoga,
“Results suggest that a regular yoga practice may increase the flexibility and balance as well as whole body measures of male college athletes and therefore, may enhance athletic performances that require these characteristics.”
For athletes, yoga is a total body treatment. It can improve the mental aspect of helping you compete and become a better athlete, while also helping you become a better athlete physically.
Depending on your personality, there are numerous times of day when you can practice yoga as an athlete. While I am “in-season,” I will occasionally do up to three or four 30-40-minute yoga practices per day.
Aside from the physical health benefits I have been focusing on in this article, I also rely on yoga because it significantly helps me reduce motor tics, which I have due to Tourette Syndrome.
Generally, I start every morning with a quick vinyasa yoga as soon as I am out of bed. This helps me loosen up my body and prepare for the day. Next, I will generally do a light stretching or detoxifying yoga after my first practice of the day (we often have two practices each day. This helps with muscle recovery and muscular imbalances.
I might do another practice before or after my second basketball practice of the day (if there is one), but my last yoga of the day is always about one hour before I go to bed, where I do a short relaxing yoga to help myself sleep.
With this routine, I have made significant improvements in my body since I began practicing yoga!
Improving your overall flexibility and range-of-motion leads to greater functional abilities including stooping and bending while carrying out daily activities, and your flexibility level is a huge determining factor in your ability to live with less pain throughout your body parts and joints.
Although yoga is one of the healthiest forms of activity you can do, you do need to be cautious. If you feel any issues in your wrist, you should definitely try one of the best wrist support for yoga products.
As a professional basketball player, my muscles, joints, tendons, bones, and pretty much whole body have taken a huge toll since arriving at college. The long practice hours add up, and the combination of traveling and playing consistently all year round is not something easy for anyone’s body to withstand.
I promise, regardless of your levels as an athlete or desires in fitness; practicing yoga will help you live a more comfortable life!
Despite the fact that yoga and other flexibility enhancing exercises are essential for your body, it is advisable that you consult your doctor in order to get approval before engaging in these exercises and practices.
Food is Fuel – Nutrition Tips for Professional Athletes
An athlete’s nutrition should, understandably, be much more focused than the average persons. Although it is imperative that we all eat a proper diet to maintain overall health and human function, an athlete’s nutrition and diet is directly related to their livelihood.
For many athlete’s, nutrition is an ingrained habit and daily meals stay relatively the same. Check out these nutrition tips for athletes which can help improve your athletic performance:
Eat the Same Thing (Almost) Every Day
It might seem counter-intuitive, but having less variation in your diet is actually associated with lower levels of body fat. We think this is because of the long-term habits we form when prepping our meals in advance.
According to Christopher Dalmau, a Bachelor of Science (Physiology), Masters of Exercise Science (Strength and conditioning), and Nutritionist & Exercise Scientist, a great example of this is The Clean 5, an Australian meal planning and training program that helps young Australian’s lose weight and build muscle by creating healthy meal prep habits.
Through their app and website, they provide users with 2 new meal prep recipes each week, a 5-day training program and a “meal planner” that allows them to calculate their daily calorie goals based on their needs, then tailor their recipes portion sizes to suit their goals.
As “decision fatigue” is taken largely out of the equation, we’re much more likely to actually stick to a diet when we don’t have to think about it every day.
Pulling another container out of the freezer is exponentially easier than actively thinking “what should we have for dinner tonight?”.
Let’s consider Steve Jobs & Mark Zuckerberg, they wore the same thing every day so the selection of a t-shirt didn’t get in the way of completing their valuable goals!
The theory of ‘decision fatigue’ states that we only have the mental energy to make a certain number of decisions each day.
Each time we make a decision, we use a little bit of our battery, that is our capacity to make decisions.
The same concept of decision fatigue applies to your diet, the more effort you put into selecting a meal every night, the more this drains your ability to make decisions.
As you’re likely already mentally fatigued from a hard day at work, you’re much more likely to ‘default’ to ordering takeout or buying a quick ready-made dinner from the supermarket if you don’t already know what you’re going to eat. This leads to the consumption of more processed foods, as opposed to whole foods, which in turn means we take in more calories.
Furthermore, meal prepping well in advance has been linked to sustained, healthy levels of body fat, and this is the super important part!
It’s not directly “eating the same thing every day” that has an effect on your body fat levels, it’s the effect this has on your ability to maintain a diet that keeps you satisfied with your food, whilst eating fewer calories long term.
Learn More: Meal Prepping for Beginners
Drink Tea and Water Instead of Sports Drinks:
Every athlete knows what staying hydrated is vital for their health, but the amount of fluids and type of fluids they consume is more of an individual thing. Professional athletes like myself usually measure how much fluid they lose during workouts in order to compensate for the loss and stay hydrated as well.
Sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade have some of the greatest marketing and commercials in the world. However, that doesn’t mean that they are good for you.
These types of sport drinks are generally just a large amount of sugar and sweetener, combined with some artificially infused electrolytes. Not necessarily the combination of ingredients your body needs to run on!
The difference will pay off over time! Many people resort to drinking a sport drink while participating in athletics, but the sport drinks on the market can do much more harm than good for your body.
Hydration is a bodily process that you should be consistently working at, and drinking water and tea is your best solution!
Read Also: Hydration for Athletes
Avoid Eating Larger Meals:
The biggest problems for athletes who traditionally eat large, carbohydrate heavy meals is that there is usually a significant crash in blood sugar levels and energy directly after. Eating more proportional meals will help to avoid these feelings, increase your metabolism, and keep you fresh and ready all day!
Meals should always be balanced for athletes, and protein and healthy fats should be prioritized over carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are a necessity for “quick fuel” for your body, but healthy fats such as sunflower seeds or almonds are a much better sustained source of energy for the athlete’s body overall.
Additional Reading: Complex Carbs for Bodybuilding
Always Keep Healthy and Nutrient-Packed Snacks with You:
If you are used to using protein powders and natural foods for your source of protein each day, you are probably on the right track already!
However, there are other options out there! Let’s face it, protein powders do not always taste great.
Even the protein powders which do taste good can be unsettling at times.
Along with this, trying to carry protein powder around with you can get very messy!
If you need a better solution, try protein bars or foods! You need to be careful about which you choose, but there are many great protein foods out there that are healthy, convenient, and enjoyable!
Protein bars and energy bars can be great for you, especially if you know which ones to purchase. Many protein bars on the market are loaded with chemical ingredients, and you should stay away from these no matter what.
I highly suggest that you check out this excellent website for a review of protein bars, and help with determining which brand is best for you!
Healthy snacks such as protein bars can keep you effectively fueled during your day, and can help with stabilizing energy and blood sugar levels.
Read Also: Redd Bar Review
Make Sleep a Priority
The time you spend sleeping is essential for muscle growth and recovery. Even the best athletes in the world have a set sleeping schedule because they know that lack of sleep has a significant impact on their performance.
Dr. Raymonde Jean, director of sleep medicine and associate director of critical care at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City, stated that the quality of sleep is directly related to the quality of life.
Intensive workouts tend to take a toll on your body and in order to get the most of your workout, you need to rest.
Making your sleep a priority will help you achieve your results faster and help you stay full of energy throughout the day.
Sleep and Muscle Recovery
When you spend hours training your muscles and strengthening your heart through intense exercise there is obviously great purpose to this. However it is literally worth nothing if you do not give yourself a chance to recover. You vitally need to aid your muscle recovery by getting enough sleep.
The amount you train or what type of damage you do to your body greatly effects how much sleep and recovery you need.
For instance, after if you were to undergo a surgery, illness or injury, you will require additional sleep and recovery time since the body is fighting something more difficult than just the breakdown of muscle tissue through training.
Athletes that are rehabbing an injury or undergoing postoperative physical therapy need to understand that their body needs an extra amount of quality sleep, and an increased quantity of sleep in order to heal.
The harder you train or the more physical damage your body has suffered, the more sleep you will need.
Sleep greatly impacts your body and your body not only recovers from exercise and repairs itself, it also grows new tissue because the body maximizes its output of growth hormones during sleep; which is why sleep is anabolic.
Sleep also replenishes critical neurotransmitters that are needed for effective bodybuilding; including the neurotransmitters adrenaline, acetylcholine, dopamine, and noradrenaline.
Bodybuilders often turn to synthetic versions of these too push their bodies to the limit even further, which is unhealthy and unadvisable.
Maximize your own natural production of these by getting quality sleep every night!
Cortisol Production and Sleep
Cortisol is a hormone that is found in the body and it actually counteracts testosterone.
Cortisol inhibits muscle growth, and also aids in the breakdown of muscle tissue. One of the main causes that can lead to an increase in you cortisol level in your body is stress, which is regularly caused as a result of insufficient sleep.
This is not a good thing for those who are trying to build muscle. By getting enough sleep, you will be able to reduce your stress level, and at the same time lower the cortisol level in your body.
Cortisol is extremely dangerous because it literally reverses the course of your training.
If you train intensely for 2 hours per day but do not aptly manage the stress hormone of your body, your training will accomplish absolutely nothing.
It is a growing trend in the fitness industry to reduce the time of training workouts in order to avoid elevating this cortisol level too much.
Although I also believe in this to a certain extent, I also believe that improving sleep quality and quantity does enough that training time can be substantially increased from the common belief, as your body will be prepared to handle this overall work volume.
Replacement of Dead Cells and Repair of Body Tissues
Available information from research suggests that during REM sleep, our body is able to restore tissue, organs, bones, circulate human growth hormone and replenish immune cells.
Considering the fact that mental alertness is essential for athletes and bodybuilders during the day (especially during training), resting the brain will ensure the alertness of athletes.
Adenosine happens to be a neurotransmitter that produces ATP which is the energy storage molecule that powers several biochemical reactions inside cells (ATP is the reason which we take creatine).
Adenosine serves as a signal to inform the brain of the need for sleep.
When the level of adenosine is high during the day, it is an indication that the body is in need of rest.
During sleep, the level of adenosine drops, and it can, therefore, be suggested that blocking adenosine increases alertness and this can be achieved through sleep.
While sleeping, your body is able to carry out protein metabolism much faster than when you are awake. It has been recommended that we need at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep every day to enable our body recover properly and also rest well.
How to Get Enough Sleep as an Athlete
Most times, we do not get proper quality sleep, and even when we fall asleep the quality of the sleep may not likely be sufficient for our body needs. You will find some tips listed below which are very useful in getting a good nights sleep, and can help in overall body recovery.
Avoid Oversleeping, Even When You Feel You Didn’t Sleep Enough Hours
By oversleeping, you may cause your body’s clock to set to a different cycle and the effect is that it could make it difficult for you to fall asleep again. Attempt to wake up at the same time every day and always on your first alarm. If you cannot wake up at the same exact time, wake up very near to it. Your body will understand its own sleeping “rhythm” and become programmed to sleep more efficiently.
As an athlete, you should avoid alcohol as much as possible. However, once you’re of age, you might want to have a drink from time to time. I’m not here to tell you to never drink alcohol, but definitely don’t drink alcoholic drinks close to bedtime. While many people drink alcohol to get sleepy and overcome insomnia, alcohol disrupts the body’s natural chemistry and interferes with its natural sleep process.
Create a Better Sleeping Environment
Your room should be reasonably cool because humidity may cause you to have disrupted sleep.
You can relax and sleep better with a fan running or soft background music. Warm temperatures are generally more uncomfortable and difficult to sleep in, so do your best to keep your room on the cool-side!
You can also invest in an air purifying device. There are many you can choose from, so you can check out this review by MerchDope to help you to pick the best air purifier which is suitable for your bedroom.
Check Your Mattress and Replace if Necessary
The bed you sleep on can affect how you sleep at night. Consider using a good memory foam mattress to help you sleep better. If you want to achieve REM sleep, you need to be as comfortable as possible.
If your mattress is already sagging or lumpy, it may be causing you to toss and turn during the night, preventing you from getting deep sleep, which is a precursor to REM sleep.
Choose a mattress that would suit your needs and preferences, such as sleeping position and body temperature regulation. Adding a memory foam pillow to your bed can also be beneficial.
Avoid Watching Television in Bed When You Are Going to Try to Sleep Soon
By watching the television in bed, your alertness might be increased and your brain may be programmed that bedtime is for watching television and may not allow you to sleep. If possible, keep all electronics out of your room.
Cell phones are especially bad to be using in bed at night because they are overly stimulating in numerous different ways.
Make it a goal to not use any electronic devices within 15-30 minutes before heading to bed and watch the distinct difference in your nightly sleep!
Supplement with Melatonin Before Bed to Improve Your Sleep Quality
You should not rely on melatonin too much, but it certainly can help you improve your sleep quality when supplemented with. Melatonin can help you fall asleep faster, and improve your quality of sleep.
If you have not used melatonin before, you can check out my advice for the best melatonin supplement as well as additional health benefits of melatonin.
Try Any of These Additional Ideas
- Curb Your Coffee Intake at Night
- Take a Contrast Shower to Relax Your Body
- Turn Off External Distracts (cell phone, tablet, television, stereo, etc)
- Use Essential Oils that Promote Sleep
Treating Your Entire Body
If you want to become a professional athlete, you need to take care of your entire body from the inside out. Here are a few additional tips which you can use:
Get a Massage When Possible
For athletes who spend many weekly hours in training, it’s usual to become tired and sore. Besides getting enough sleep, it’s important to take some time for a massage or other spa treatments to recover.
For example, for Sydneysiders, there is a beautiful escape from everyday life hidden in Sol Spa in Eastern Suburbs, where they can surround themselves with comforting throws to re-energize and have a healing experience with aromatic oils.
If you find such a spa in your neighborhood, don’t miss out on the opportunity to get a massage and use spa services that will help your muscles recover!
Taking proper care of your skin is an absolute must no matter what you do in life, and it gets even more important when you’re a professional athlete.
Extreme weather conditions, exposure to the sun, and a lot of sweat can negatively affect your skin and potentially cause problems, so keep on reading to find out how to keep them at bay and give your skin exactly what it needs. Just check out our five tips and enjoy!
Get Serious About Sunscreen
You must get serious about sunscreen if you’re playing an outdoor sport or training outside. An SPF of 50 will do the trick for your face and other areas you often tend to forget, such as ears, nose, and the back of the neck.
Apart from preventing unwanted (and unattractive) tan lines, sunscreen will also protect your skin from premature aging, which is a benefit that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Besides that, applying it regularly will reduce your risk of developing skin cancer, too, so make sure to look for a water-resistant sunscreen with a broad spectrum of UVA and UVB blocking. Here’s a little tip: you can always set up an alarm to stay on a sunscreen schedule. It sounds silly at first, but it definitely works!
Embrace the Super Simple 3-Step Skincare Routine
No matter what people may say, the simplest skincare routines are often the most effective ones. This basically means that you don’t really need dozens of different products to take proper care of your skin.
In fact, a simple 3-step skincare routine will give your skin everything it needs, so go for it and you won’t regret it. The first step is cleansing, so get a gentle alcohol-free cleanser that will get rid of impurities without drying out your skin.
The next one is a toner which will further cleanse the skin and minimize the appearance of pores. Just take a small cotton pad, add a couple of drops of your favorite toner, and apply it to your face evenly. The last step is a moisturizer that’ll keep your skin hydrated.
Of course, if your skin is prone to acne, be sure to buy good acne products that will soothe, decongest, and improve the appearance of affected skin.
Don’t Forget to Exfoliate
Exfoliation is another crucial step every professional athlete should incorporate into their skincare routine, and reasons for that are more than good. First of all, the combination of sweat, sunscreen, dirt, and makeup residue can clog your pores and wreak havoc on your skin, causing unwanted breakouts and blemishes.
Besides these, dead skin cells that pile up on the surface of your skin are likely to make your skin look dull and lifeless, while clogging your pores at the same time. In order to prevent that and keep your skin clean, clear, and radiant, you should start using a gentle scrub at least twice a week.
Such a product will successfully remove the buildup and unclog your pores, allowing your skin to breathe and absorb the moisturizer properly. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a scrub, just make a DIY one and you won’t make a mistake!
A great option for purchasing is the Vinsanto Red Wine Scrub Soap.
Replace Your Towels Frequently
Even though you’ve probably never considered the impact of your towel on your overall health, we have to say that there are a lot of important things you should know about.
First of all, you should learn that your towels are a breeding ground for germs and bacteria. With that being said, can you imagine what your gym-bag towel looks like under a microscope?
We don’t think so, which is exactly why you need to replace them frequently. The last thing you want is to expose your skin to toxins after a warm shower, so get a set of brand new towels right away. Needless to say, old towels can become less absorbent and rough over time, so buy a set of super-soft, ultra-absorbent towels and improve your post-workout skin health!
Keep Your Skin Moisturized
Being a professional athlete means that your skin is often stressed out due to friction, cleansing, extreme weather conditions, and exposure to sun and water, which is why you need to moisturize it every single day, without exceptions. And no, we don’t say that only one layer of your favorite body moisturizer is enough – on the contrary, you should layer your products in order to keep your body properly hydrated after a workout. A part from a body lotion, there are also various serums and oil-free moisturizers that will do a great job without clogging your pores. This is essential if your skin is naturally very dry and you have to work out in cold climates.
Here’s a little tip: apply a generous layer of body oil while your skin is still damp after a shower, and then top it with a lotion. You certainly won’t go wrong with this technique!
Pick the Right Training Gear
This may sound funny, but wearing the right outfit and carrying the right gear with you can make a world of difference.
Your new workout outfit can boost your confidence and help you get motivated to train harder.
This has a lot to do with your mental preparation for a workout. The more help you provide your brain, the better and more effective your workout will be. You just need to find the right adrenaline triggers for yourself.
Additional Reading: Choosing the Best Workout Shoes
Track Your Progress
Having a training schedule on you at all times will keep you on your toes and prevent you from deviating from your goals.
If you get tempted to mess with your diet or skip a workout, get your diary, schedule, or app and remind yourself what your goals are.
Yes, achieving your life-long dreams might sound hard at first, but the more time you dedicate towards them the higher the change of achieving them is. Professional athletes are there to remind you that you can achieve whatever you set your mind to.