HRSM professor studies a subject outside his field, but at his heart – UofSC News & Events

Khalid Ballouli reflects on the lives of the budding young baseball players he once was

Khalid Ballouli knows firsthand what life is like as an aspiring professional baseball player. It was his personal experience, which included six years as a minor league pitcher after playing for Texas A&M University in the Southeastern Conference, that led him to his 10-year research project interviewing young players and their families about their experiences in travel baseball.

“For me, growing up in a competitive youth sporting environment was financially difficult for my parents,” says Ballouli. “It was also difficult for my siblings as a lot of time and money went into my progress. Most family vacations were built around where and when my baseball tournaments took place. venue.

After his playing days, Ballouli continued to coach while he returned to school, at Texas A&M University, where he earned his doctorate. in sports management. Although his primary area of ​​research is sports marketing and consumer behavior, the idea of ​​following a group of preteen athletes through their high school and college years appealed to him, in part because he wanted to help them set realistic expectations for their future and prepare them for some of the experiences he had while playing,

“I spent a lot of time coaching these players and parents to temper their expectations,” Ballouli says. “Even though I was able to experience a rare achievement – I got a scholarship to an SEC school, got drafted and played professionally, got multiple baseball cards – I still ended up having 28 when I retired, not knowing what the next step was in my life, even having all this success.

Ballouli says one of the biggest problems for highly competitive players is the loss of friendships for youngsters and their parents, as some players continue to progress to the next level in the sport while the majority of others do not. .

“I’ve tried to coach players and their parents to make sure they don’t miss the character-building moments, family-bonding experiences and lasting friendships that baseball box deliver when it’s done the right way,” he says.

“Through my own experience, I noticed that a lot of the decisions made for me and my family cost them a lot of social capital among the different social, school, and baseball communities. That’s really the impetus for the study. , to show that while there is a lot of good that comes from competitive youth sport, there is also a lot of bad that comes from it too.

For the study, Ballouli found a single team of 13 baseball players at a single baseball academy in Texas. At first, all had high hopes of directing their talents to a Division I college and possibly a professional career. A few years later, when the players were 15, it became apparent some of the major sacrifices these young men were making as they strived to achieve these goals.

I tell the parents, “Listen, I’ve walked the distance and I have some baseball cards to show. But you didn’t know me until today. No one stops me for my autograph. I don’t have millions of dollars in the bank. You must have a plan B in mind for your son, because plan B is the absolute favorite.

Khalid Ballouli

Some of the boys told the researchers that they knew they were beginning to feel an early decline in their passion or motivation for the game. Others even reflected on not necessarily wanting to play in college at the time. beyond high school. They worried about what their parents would say if they asked to quit after so much energy and resources had been invested in this professional baseball dream.

“It was really heartbreaking to hear the boys talk about it,” Ballouli says.

Of the players in his study, which is finishing its final interviews as young men are 22, only one has been drafted and is playing for a minor league Colorado Rockies team. Ten of the boys played baseball on college scholarships – eight of them for Division I schools. The playing careers of three boys ended with high school, but they are went to college at Texas A&M University and Rice University.

“When we interviewed them at 18, they really took it hard,” Ballouli says of the boys who didn’t play in college, while watching their teammates continue to play – even though it was in smaller junior colleges that may not have had the same academic reputations as Texas A&M or Rice.

“When we interview them now, I think it’s good that their other former teammates have also stopped playing. I think they understand the long tail better and prefer the position they’re in.

These young men, he says, realize that not playing in college may have been the biggest disappointment of their lives. But there was no way to tell them – or their parents – when the boys were 18, 15 or 12.

“It’s romantic to think of the idea that a son or a daughter can be one of the few successes,” says Ballouli. “But the reality is that there are risks and luck that play a role, much like playing the lottery. The chances of realizing the dream of are quite slim.

“At least with the lottery you know what you’re getting, and the money at least is life changing. I don’t know how life changing being a professional athlete or a Division I athlete really is. Even for these select athletes, life usually goes on outside of baseball in their late twenties. Every player I’ve known who has faced this harsh reality must have asked themselves: Was it worth it?

Ballouli says he tries to use his own experience – and hopefully his research will reinforce it – when he meets young players and their parents to help them temper their expectations and build a formula that allows for humility. and perspective alongside sports and sports training.

“I tell parents, ‘Listen, I’ve walked the distance and I have some baseball cards to show. But you didn’t know me until today. No one stops me for my autograph. I don’t have millions of dollars in the bank. You must have a plan B in mind for your son, because plan B is the absolute favorite.

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Subjects: Faculty, Research, College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management

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