I saw this poster in a high school, supposedly said by a basketball coach:

People say, “Follow your dreams. ” I say, “Forget your dreams, kid, follow math.”

He goes on to give the percentage of high school athletes who compete in college – 3.4% for men’s basketball, by the way, 1% of high school athletes make it in Division I. Even if you make it to the college level, your odds of becoming a professional athlete are dismal – 1.1% of college basketball players make it to the major professional teams, yes, that is 1% of 1%, so you have a .01% chance of making it into the Lakers even if you are playing in high school.

If you are that 1 in 10,000 who makes it on the roster, your median salary will be $3.7 million and you will play for around 4.8 years, giving you a career salary of around $18.5 million.

Let’s say you are a statistician with a Ph.D.  With 5-9 years of experience, your median salary is around $130,000. In my experience, it is going to be considerably less your first year but go up fairly rapidly. Let’s say you have the sense to get some scholarship and grant funds to pay for your tuition – my total student loan debt was $900 – and that you graduate in your 30s – I was 31 and that was with taking a few years out to work as an engineer. There isn’t any particular reason you have to retire before 65 or 70. It’s not like your knees go out and they fire you from your statistician job.  I’m going to give a ballpark figure of $150,000 a year average over those 36 years, which is turns out to be about the median salary for a statistician who doesn’t work in academia, according to the American Statistical Association. You’re at $5.4 million. That’s not counting 36 years of health insurance, 401 K and other benefits like not having a boss who is referred to as your “owner” , which I personally find kind of creepy weird, but you also have to consider you don’t get all the $5.4 million at once, either.

So, let’s present this to you:

  • You have a 1 in 10,000 chance of making $18.5 million
  • You have a 55 out of 100 chance of making $5.4 million.

You can only buy one ticket. Which lottery ticket do you buy?

Oh, by the way, did I mention you have a 90 out of 100 chance of making over $3 million ?

The coach’s point was that you may be dreaming about a spot in the NBA but you have a much greater chance of success in life if you spend your time in the math class instead of on the court. As a good friend of mine often says, “Too many people confuse wishes with plans.”

So, you may dream of slam dunks in the NBA but you would be a lot better off planning to take Calculus, several statistics courses and study a field like business, psychology, political science or epidemiology where you can apply those statistics.

You might think I don’t have any heart, that I have no idea what it means to dream of being a successful athlete. Actually, you’d be wrong. I ran track in college. I won the world championships in judo. Then, the next year, I went into a Ph.D. program and specialized in statistics because, well, I’m good enough at math to see what had the better probability of paying off in the future.

There are SO many ways to learn and use statistics. That’s another post, though. I’d best toddle off to bed since I need to catch a plane tomorrow after I go do a charity walk in the morning.

Early morning and snow, two things I hate the most. Well, life can’t be perfect all the time. I think I can prove that statistically.

Get started learning statistics with the Aztech Games series for iPad. The first game is available now and it’s free!




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