What You Need to Know About Playing Professionally Overseas – Basketball, Hockey & Baseball

Playing a sport that you love and being paid to do it, getting the opportunity to explore places that you might not have visited otherwise, and having your housing and round-trip plane ticket covered by your team are some of the benefits of playing professional sports overseas, according to The Undefeated article “The perks of playing basketball overseas.”

While there are many good reasons to play professional sports abroad, there are also some negatives. The contracts that you sign might not be as legally binding as they would be in America, you might be homesick after your first few months, and you’ll miss out on major life moments, holidays and events with your family and friends back home.

There’s also a lot of uncertainty right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hartford Courant article “Americans playing professional basketball overseas fear economic fallout from virus” points out. The United States is by far the world’s biggest exporter of both male and female basketball players, and Europe is the top importer.

American players who have earned a living playing professional sports overseas in the past are now worried that there will be fewer jobs and lower salaries in the economic fallout of the coronavirus. Even during the best of times, there was lots of uncertainty for overseas players, according to the Hartford Courant article. Players were rarely able to land multi-year contracts, they were quickly replaced if injured, and sometimes they had to go to arbitration for their money.

While there are obvious incentives and drawbacks to playing professional sports overseas, there are also some major differences between the North American style of game and the international style of game when it comes to basketball, hockey and baseball.

NORTH AMERICAN BASKETBALL VS. INTERNATIONAL BASKETBALL

“On the court, playing basketball overseas is very different from the AAU/NBA culture we have in the States,” writes Michael Creppy in “The perks of playing basketball overseas” article for The Undefeated. “The international game is predicated on ball movement and player movement. Isolation basketball is seldom seen, and fundamentals (shooting, backdoor cuts, utilizing screens, pick and roll, etc.) are prevalent.”

Creppy says that those preparing to play overseas should spend less time on isolation drills during training and really focus on fundamentals such as shooting. He says that teams will not hesitate to break your contract and send you home if you’re not shooting well, noting that during the 2011 NBA lockout, some established NBA players went overseas to play, struggled, and were sent home because of the difference in systems.

The dimensions of North American men’s and women’s basketball courts are also different than international basketball courts. The North American courts are 50 feet wide by 94 feet long, while the international courts are 49 feet by 92 feet. A three-pointer for men in North America is 22 feet in the corners and 23.75 feet above the break, while the three-point line is 21.65 feet in the corners and 22.15 feet above the break for international men and North American women.

There are 12 minutes per quarter for a total game length of 48 minutes for North American men, while international men’s games and North American women’s games are played with 10-minute quarters for a total game time of 40 minutes. In international men’s games, players foul out on five fouls – personal and technical – while in North American men’s games, players foul out on six personal fouls or two technical fouls.

The ball that men in North America play with is 29.5 inches in circumference. The one that women in North America and international play with has a maximum circumference of 29 inches and is called a size 6. International basketballs for men’s play have a circumference of 30.7 inches and are referred to as a size 7. Both men’s and women’s basketballs should be inflated between 7.5 and 8.5 lbs. per square inch, according to SportsRec.

NORTH AMERICAN HOCKEY VS. INTERNATIONAL HOCKEY

There are between 200 and 225 Americans being paid to play in pro leagues outside of North America, according to USA TODAY Sports, even though there are some differences between the North American game and the international one.  

International-sized ice is 15 feet wider than rinks used in North American leagues – 100 feet compared to 85 feet. The blue lines in international play are closer to the goal, which shrinks the offensive and defensive zones and increases the size of the neutral zone. The space behind the net is also two feet larger, with the goal line 13 feet from the end boards compared to 11 feet in North American rinks.

Several European-born players playing professionally in North America say that there is less hitting and more trapping, and the overall pace of play is slower on the bigger international-sized ice, according an article from The Star.

There are also some rule differences in international play versus North American games. If a player enters the goal crease in international play, the play is whistled down and the faceoff comes outside the zone. In North America, players are allowed to skate in the crease, as long as they don’t make contact or interfere with the goalie’s ability to make a save.

The schedule in European leagues is also lighter than North American ones. European leagues shut down three times during the season in order to allow national team players to participate in tournaments, which gives other players not participating in those tournaments more time during the season to rest and recover, according to the USA TODAY Sports article “For American pros, hockey dream goes beyond borders.”

NORTH AMERICAN BASEBALL VS. INTERNATIONAL BASEBALL

“Why do players head overseas? Most reach an age where their opportunities are dwindling in the States and the guaranteed pay in Asia is far more attractive,” according to an MLive.com article. “Money is a big draw for many players who head overseas. In some cases, they’ve bounced around the minor leagues for almost a decade, getting paid very little, and the opportunity to cash in before it’s too late is impossible to resist.”

There are at least 114 players on the roster of teams in Taiwan, Korea and Japan, according to the article.

“For the established minor leaguers or indy pro players who have had a successful pro career but did not reach their end goal of the MLB, there are plenty of opportunities overseas to continue in the game and it really comes down to what you want out of it and your expectations of level of pay and play,” according to Baseball Jobs Overseas. “For those with an open mind and are in it to help grow the game while traveling the world, the opportunities are endless. For those who need to play at a level close to what they are used to and are not very flexible financially, the options are fewer.”

Baseball Jobs Overseas says that as long as a player has good, recent statistics that can be verified online from a college program, they have a good shot at receiving offers from a club overseas, regardless of the college level they played at. Most semi-pro leagues operate on weekends and practice two to three times per week. So, be prepared to have more time on your hands than you’d be used to, especially since Americans are not permitted to work on the side in Europe – unless they secure a work visa, which is not easy to do, according to Baseball Jobs Overseas.

CULTURAL DIFFERENCES FOR AMERICAN ATHLETES OVERSEAS

“One aspect of the culture shock that took me some time to adjust to was overt staring in China,” writes Michael Creppy in The Undefeated. “Being a pro basketball player in Europe, it is normal for fans to ask for pictures and to greet you in the streets. But in China I had people congregate around me while I’m eating or when I’m shopping in the grocery store.”

Creppy explains that this is something that all foreigners from the West will experience, no matter their profession.

“Seeing me visibly confused and uncomfortable, my translator explained, ‘They are staring at you like this because they think you’re so cool,’” Creppy writes.

He says that as soon as he understood that the staring wasn’t malicious, it allowed him to adjust and enjoy the Chinese culture.

Cultural differences for hockey players overseas show up in the way that the European clubs manage their teams, according to the USA TODAY Sports article. Training camps start in July and last several weeks before the regular season starts in September. Plane trips can also be seven hours long and temperatures can get very cold.

American players also have to learn new languages, especially if their coaches and teammates don’t speak English, according to USA TODAY Sports. 

3 TIPS TO HELP YOU FIND A JOB PLAYING PROFESSIONALLY OVERSEAS

  1. Create a Highlight Video: Pro Skills Basketball says that while it may seem basic, creating a basketball highlight video is very important. It’s also something that can make you feel like you’re making progress. When it comes to making your highlight reel, they recommend choosing highlights from a game where you played well against a big name school or university; editing your highlight reel down to 3 or 4 minutes; keeping your highlight reel organized by skill; and including a full, unedited game tape – or at least half of a game – at the end of your highlight video.
  1. Find an Agent: Pro Skills Basketball recommends finding an agent to help you navigate the process of playing overseas. However, they recognize that dealing with agents and knowing who to work with can be a challenge in itself. They suggest asking yourself, “Do any of your former teammates or basketball-playing-friends have agents that will take you on? Has there been an agent contacting you that you like?”
  1. Network: Pro Skills Basketball suggests putting yourself out there to try and meet someone who knows someone who played basketball overseas who can help guide you. Pickup basketball games are a great networking opportunity, especially if you can find out where the overseas guys in your area play over the summer, as well as where they workout.

3 TIPS FOR MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR OVERSEAS PLAYING EXPERIENCE

  1. Have an Open Mind: “To arrive with an open mind is to appreciate the subtle differences in the game in another country, to appreciate that the locals play it for the love of the game and not as a potential professional career, and that the youth in the organization will look up to you as you would your favorite MLB player,” according to Baseball Jobs Overseas. “To have an open mind is to realize that playing only on weekends provides you with ample opportunity to prepare for your post-playing career, to hone your skills in hopes of an affiliated contract, or even to experience another culture or country you otherwise never would have experienced.”
  1. Be Prepared to Work Hard: As one of the professional hockey players playing overseas says in the USA TODAY Sports article, you better bring your A-game and a strong work ethic. “It’s not easy over here,” they say. “Some guys do come over and think it will be an easy ride. You
  1. Save Money: While part of the allure of playing overseas is to travel and enjoy a unique experience, it’s also important to save some of the money that you’re earning, especially if you know that your days of playing professional sports are numbered. “I’ve seen players spend it all and I’ve seen players save almost every single penny; the average player is in between there somewhere,” says Joe Palumbo, a financial adviser for RBC Wealth Management U.S. in San Diego, California, in a Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) article, “Professional athletes need a retirement game plan.” “It’s critical to start saving and investing as early as possible so the income can grow over time and provide returns.”

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