A professional athlete is an individual who is paid to play a sport. The sport may be a team-based sport, such as baseball, or an individual one, such as golfing. Although this career is cited by many children as a planned and realistic vocational option, very few adults are able to work as a professional level athlete. Even those athletes who are able to play professional sports are often unable to do so full-time unless they reach a starter's status or become a superstar. In the meantime, many professional athletes — particularly those just beginning or in the minors — usually work at other jobs during their sport's off-season.
In addition to playing games competitively, a professional athlete has other obligations he must meet to continue in his career. Competition is extremely fierce for every available position and so players must reach, maintain or surpass extremely high levels of physical conditioning in season and out. In addition to maintaining a given degree of fitness year round, an athlete often works more than 40 hours a week during his sport's in season playing games, traveling to games, participating in team practices, working with position coaches, reviewing scouting reports on upcoming games and in film review of his and opponent's performances. In order to prevent injury or re-injury, a professional athlete may also require the application of certain physical therapy or other treatment modalities on a regular basis.
There are several ways for a professional athlete to enter his field, depending upon his sport. Members of team sports are often drafted by interested professional teams after observation of their high school or college playing careers and are paid a salary established by a contract. Other sports pros are paid by the event, such as boxers, mixed martial arts fighters or stock car drivers. An event-driven, individual athletes must often solicit sponsorship from competing professional organizers to become established in his field. Once established, a professional athlete often retains the services of an agent to represent his business interests and negotiate contracts with his team or sponsors.
There are no minimum educational requirements to become a professional athlete. Some players enter their sports directly from high school or after completing a general educational development (GED®) test. Others are recruited by, and attend college, both to obtain a degree and mature more fully as an amateur athlete. The length of a professional athlete's career is also highly variable and depends upon his sport, his record of injuries, and his ability to obtain a spot on a roster for a team sport.