Everyone seems to like looking at pictures of famous athletes from when they were kids, but they’re all the same. That’s why we decided to do our own deep search for photos that most sports fans have never seen. Well, the ones that we have found of these 15 athletes are both rare and fantastic. Not only will you get to see how much they’ve changed, you will also get to see just how “normal” most of them were when they were younger.
Some of the photos that you will see here are of the adorable versions of the top athletes we know today, while others are of the times right before they started to make names for themselves. Either way, chances are you have never seen these pics before.
So, who were the cutest athletes when they were kids? Who had that determined look that showed they were preparing to become superstars? Who were the awkward kids, the ones who no one could have predicted the futures for?
Well, read on to see 15 of the best childhood pictures of pro athletes that we could find.
15 Cristiano Ronaldo
Yep, Cristiano Ronaldo was a fierce competitor even as a kid. After growing up in poverty, the future superstar was quickly recognized for his soccer skills and, after getting in trouble at school for throwing a chair at a teacher (yep, he did that), his parents decided to let him focus on the sport.
Well, that turned out to be a great decision in his case as he is now recognized as one of the best footballers of all time. He has scored 265 goals in 244 career goals with Real Madrid, he’s Portugal’s all-time leading scorer, and he’s a two-time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner. He also happens to be one of the highest-paid athletes in the world. Shoot, he even has his own fragrance line called Legacy. Not bad for a kid who came from nothing.
14 LeBron James
If this were one of your friends, you’d make fun of them for a whole host of reasons, the main one being that he’s holding a stuffed animal in what appears to be a school photo. But you see that mini basketball next to his left hand? Yeah, you know little LeBron had a pretty good idea about what he was going to be doing when he grew up. In fact, right around when this picture was taken was when he moved out of the sketchy neighborhoods of Akron and into a local football coach’s house. And that’s when the LeBron James we all know began his path toward greatness.
Arguably the best basketball player in the league today, LeBron already has three NBA Championships, four league MVPs, and three NBA Finals MVPs. Oh, and he’s a 12-time All-Star. Yeah, you don’t make fun of the kid in this picture… even though you want to so badly.
13 Lionel Messi
“I may be a bit shorter than just about everyone else who steps on the pitch, but I am going to grow up to be a legend. That’s right, not just a great player, a LEGEND! I will use my height to my advantage to weave through defenses, leaving them crying behind me as I complete my hat tricks.”
That’s what we think Messi was thinking when this picture was taken.
You might not believe it from looking at the photo, but Messi was already better than everyone in his age group at this time. He was recruited when he was just eight years old, and he learned from a very young age that the hormonal deficiency that stunted his growth could be used as a weapon on the soccer pitch.
He moved to Barcelona when he was 13 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Here’s yet another future Barcelona superstar as a youngster. Many people already knew Neymar was a great player when this picture was taken because he had been a street football dynamo at an extremely young age. He joined legendary Brazilian club Santos FC at the wee age of 11 and he has been considered one of the top players at his age level ever since.
Neymar is now one of the top players on one of the best teams in the world. He's also a scoring machine. That’s pretty amazing considering how young he still is and the fact that he’s a winger. It’s a little scary that the Brazilian is probably going to get even better in the coming years.
11 Roger Federer
When this picture was taken, Roger Federer had just decided to give up soccer and focus solely on tennis. Good decision, no? He was already considered one of the best young players in his home country of Switzerland at this point, so his decision made sense. It wasn’t long after this that he won the Junior Wimbledon, the first of oh-so-man trophies the tennis legend would take home.
Federer is arguably the greatest tennis player of all time, holding the records for most Grand Slams and most consecutive weeks as the number one ranked player in the world. There have been a bunch of athletes who have dominated their respective sports, but few made it look as easy as Federer did during his prime.
10 Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant lived and breathed basketball form a very young age, as you can probably tell from this picture. It was around the time this pic was taken that he told his mom that he was going to make it to the NBA. All of us who played basketball when we were kids hoped to make it as a pro, but the tall, lanky, stat-stuffing youngster probably knew he was going to be a star.
Durant still has plenty of years left in his NBA career and he has already been a seven-time All-Star, a four-time scoring champ, and he’s won an MVP trophy. There’s no doubt that he will end up in the Hall of Fame someday, so he basically called his shot and then some when he said he’d make it to the NBA.
9 Tiger Woods
Believe it or not, Tiger Woods had already been a golf superstar for more than a decade when this picture was taken. That’s ridiculous. Want to know something else that’s ridiculous about Tiger? He was considered a “prodigy” at three-freakin-years-old! What?! Most of us couldn’t keep our fingers out of our noses at that age and Tiger Woods was already a young golfing legend.
Those types of predictions rarely pan out, but there was absolutely no stopping Tiger for the majority of his career. He’s considered by many to be the best golfer ever, which isn’t surprising considering that he’s won 14 major tournaments and has been named player of the year 11 times. He also happens to have one of the coolest names of all-time.
8 James Rodriguez
When this picture was taken, James Rodriguez was a good young footballer, but people worried that his shyness and his stuttering would keep him from going far in his career. Boy, were they wrong. Rather than let those issues stop him, little James put all of his focus on developing his skills, which, as many of you know, are pretty ridiculous now. He was just 15 when he helped Envigado make it to the first division of Columbia’s top league.
Rodriguez still has a long career ahead of him, but he’s already scored a bunch of goals for one of the best teams in the world and he’s earned over 50 caps for Columbia. Not bad for a kid who was scared to talk to people for more than half his life.
7 Rafael Nadal
If you had ever wondered if Rafael Nadal made that face when he was younger, well, you now have your answer. That is the face of a player who does not care what you think. All he he’s ever cared about is winning, something he has done plenty of throughout his tennis career. This was right around the time Nadal decided to give up football, at which he was also excellent and focus on working on that crazy lefty forehand.
Nadal has long been considered one of the best all-around tennis players in the world, but he really made a name for himself on clay surfaces. Want proof? He has won an unbelievable nine French Opens, including five straight from 2010 to 2014. We’d all make that crazy face if we were that good at something.
6 Kobe Bryant
Oh, little Kobe. At this point, Kobe Bryant’s dad had already put in a few years grooming his son to be a great player. They were still in Italy when this picture was taken and they didn’t actually move to the states until Kobe was 13. You would think that he would be behind American players, skills-wise, but he was already a superstar when he started high school in Philadelphia.
As just about everyone on the world already knows, Kobe had an amazing career. The future Hall of Famer went to an amazing 18 All-Star games, won five NBA championships, and finished his career as the Lakers’ all-time top scorer. Oh, and he was also a pretty good rapper at one point, too (sarcasm).
5 Gareth Bale
Yes, Gareth Bale was already part of Southampton’s youth team at this point of his life, but there is absolutely no one on earth who could have predicted that this kid would end up being a megastar. His parents probably thought, “Yeah, he’s a decent player, but he’ll probably end up being a school teach or an accountant.” Well, that (made-up) prediction was dead wrong! This little guy with the ears would grow up to be on a little team known as Real Madrid!
Bale is still only in his mid-20s, but he has already made nearly 300 league appearances in England and Spain, and he’s considered one of the best Welsh players on all-time. He should give hop to everyone who doesn’t “look like a soccer player” because he most definitely didn’t when he was a kid.
4 Phil Mickelson
Okay, this might just be the cutest picture of them all. Little Phil Mickelson couldn’t care less about golf, the crazy red knee socks he’s wearing, or anything else when this picture was taken. That might just be the most forced smile that we’ve ever seen on a child, which just makes the picture that much more adorable.
So yeah, little Phil played some golf as a kid. In fact, his parents say that he once tried to run away from home at the age of three (!!) to go play some golf at the local course. Obviously he was born to play the game, as he grew up to be a three-time Masters winner and is currently in the top 10 all-time in wins.
3 Usain Bolt
Did Usain Bolt ever not have that swagger about him? He knows that the little medal around his neck is just one of hundreds that he’s going to end up winning in his lifetime. In fact, this picture proves that some people really do know when they are the best at something. Who would ever have that look on their face after winning… anything?
Well, as we all know, Usain “Lightning” Bolt is the fastest man of all-time and undoubtedly the most famous track and field star ever. The Jamaican holds two individual world records and he’s won 11 World Championships and nine Olympic gold medals. So yes, that face that he’s making in the picture makes total sense; he was just saving all of his smiles for when he became a world famous millionaire.
2 Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic’s parents owned a company called Family Sport, which had its own tennis academy, so this picture of the future pro shouldn’t surprise anyone. It also shouldn’t surprise anyone that Djokovic was considered a superstar at the very young age of six. While he might not seem super enthused in this picture, he’s probably very grateful for these moments now that he’s a legitimate tennis star.
The Serbian has already won 12 Grand Slams in his career and he currently holds one of the best winning percentage's of the modern era. He’s also won over $100 million in his career, so we actually know he is extremely thankful for all of the time his parents spent with him on that tennis court in his hometown.
1 Wayne Rooney
Wayne Rooney's probably smiling in this picture because even then he was a great footballer. You’d have to be if you end up signing for the team that you had always dreamt about, right? At 13, Rooney signed for Everton after scoring a then-record 72 goals in a single season for his youth team.
Even though his goal scoring has taken a dip in recent years, there’s no doubt that Rooney is one of the best players that England has ever produced. He has won five Premier League titles over the years and he is one of the top scorers in the league’s history. So yeah, that smile he’s making in the picture makes total sense.