Arthur Ashe, the former professional tennis star, advised nearly 300 high school athletes yesterday to keep sports in perspective and to use their athletic ability as a vehicle to further their goals in life.

Ashe, a U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion and former captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team, was the featured speaker at the second annual Washington Post All-Metropolitan teams awards luncheon at the Washington Hilton.

"This is a commencement of sorts for all of you," he told an audience of 900 that included athletes, parents and coaches. "When you leave high school, you will have garnered information that will help you in life . . .

"You must keep sports in perspective, know your rights and responsiblity and use your athletic ability to further your goals in life."

He stressed the importance of obtaining a degree because of the odds against playing professionally.

"The odds of becoming a professional player are extremely high," he said. "When you think of all of the basketball players in the colleges in the country and only 39 signed with NBA teams last year, that tells you how difficult it is to make a team. Only one in 4,200 becomes a professional baseball player, one in 5,200 becomes a professional football player and one in 12,000 a professional basketball player. The cold hard fact is that the chance of you becoming a pro is very slim.

"Athletes are pampered individuals, and you must orient yourself to another life style when you reach college . . . When you reach 40 years of age and have made the transition from being a student/athlete in high school and a student/athlete in college to the adjustment of life, then you can say, 'Here was a job well done.' "

He offered more specific advice to college-bound athletes. He told them to concentrate on English courses, as well as math, computer science and public speaking. He told them to try to study an average of two hours a day, and to sit in the front row of their classes because it has been demonstrated that how much students get out of class is directly proportional to how close they sit to the lecturer.

He advised them to make full use of tutors, to juggle their schedules to take lighter loads during their sports seasons and heavier loads in the offseason. And he told them to write letters as freshmen to prospective employers in their fields of interest.

"Begin to take the initiative for your own future," he said.

Athletes in 23 sports were honored and presented awards. In addition, coaches of the year in 15 sports were honored.

"This is a good recognition activity for the metropolitan-area youngsters and their families," said Vinna Freeman, supervising director of physical education and athletics for the District public schools, "and to the coaches who have worked so hard with these students."

"It's a nice affair to give deserving athletes," said Fletcher Tinsley, girls track coach at Dunbar. "Being selected All-Met is the highest achievement for an athlete in high school."

Also in attendance yesterday were Washingon Bullets Vice President Wes Unseld, Washington Capitals General Manager David Poile and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).