A glittering career as a professional footballer is almost every boy’s dream. The opportunity to earn a handsome wage playing the game you love for club or even country makes becoming a professional footballer the top career goal for boys in this country.
But while the rewards of a football career can be high, the career itself is short. “The biggest attrition rate is undoubtedly among young players,” says Oshor Williams of the PFA’s education department. “Most of these kids don’t have a Plan B. It can be very unnerving to find yourself having to move into a completely different world.”
Planning ahead and considering a life after football is therefore crucial to keep options open and create future opportunities, whatever direction a young football player’s career might take. Thankfully there is support available to help with this.
So what steps can a young professional footballer and their parents take now, and what aspects should be considered?
Start planning for the future today
As academy scholars and professional club players, footballers receive a great deal of support and training. When players are released, that support can end abruptly. It is therefore important to begin planning early while resources are available.
Make use of the support while it is available. Parents and young players should ask their club what post-football career support is available, and how to access it.
Find out what training opportunities are available through League Football Education (LFE), the academy training partnership set up by The Football League and The Professional Footballers’ Association. But also ask for details of other support networks and organisations like New Leaf Support that can step in and provide specialist advice to help support you on release or at retirement.
It is much easier to consider and plan for other opportunities now while you have the time and resources available to do so, than to make an emotive decision when the time comes. Planning ahead for your career after football now will also give you time to undertake the required training for a seamless transition.
Think about career aspirations, values and transferrable skills
If you could no longer be a footballer, what else would you like to do? This question may seem irrelevant now, but the path to professional football success can unfortunately end suddenly.
Among those who progress from academy to becoming a professional footballer at aged 16, 50% will no longer be playing professional football at aged 18, and only 25% will still be playing past age 21. Even successful professional footballers can expect to be retiring at an age when many of their school friends’ careers are beginning to take off. According to the PFA, the average football career length is eight years, and the average football retirement age is 35.
Transferable skills can help bridge the gap after release from a football club by opening up new opportunities in other careers or industries.
Football academy scholars generally have high levels of personal discipline and commitment that will be welcomed by employers. But what else do you value at work? Are you driven by financial rewards, the desire to “make a difference”, teamwork or competition?
Those who enjoy the routine and structure provided by academies and clubs may feel most comfortable working within a large structured organisation or industry offering a clear career path and training opportunities. Others may seek creativity and independence through learning a trade and setting up their own business.
Young players who thrive on the competitive adrenaline-fuelled aspect of professional sport may succeed best in a competitive role like sales or recruitment. For others, it is the camaraderie and close bonds they form with the rest of their team that they value the most – in which case they may be best suited to a role involving teamwork and the development of strong working relationships.
Consideration should also be given to the level of physical activity that a career may allow for. Adapting from the intense physical training involved in football to a new career in a desk job will be difficult for many, who may prefer manual work involving physical labour.
Make financial plans for life after football
A football career doesn’t last forever and players need to be financially stable for their entire lives – not just for their playing career.
“We tell our players that it is crucial to have financial planning and to value money,” explains Pete Smith, a professional footballer turned agent.“You will certainly value it more when you’ve finished because you don’t have it. There are a few horror stories with high-profile players going bankrupt and, of course, they have no chance of recouping that money again. It’s gone. It’s done.” A player who waits until he retires before planning his future is likely to face problems. “It is the mindset we have got to change,” says Smith.
Families often make big sacrifices to support children in their football career, often moving house or giving up jobs. It is important for families as a whole to ensure they put together a robust financial plan for the future.
This might mean thinking about the kind of salary young players will need to sustain during their football career or in an alternative career, in order to meet their needs.
Consider what skills you will need if you are released from football
All scholars are expected to complete about 12 hours per week of academic work alongside their football training, through the League Football Education, although the breadth of courses on offer can vary between clubs.
However, the scheme has received some criticism for not going far enough to support scholars after release. “There is far more support for released players now than a decade ago,” says Guardian football writer Stuart James. “Yet while it is encouraging to learn that football has finally accepted it has a duty of care to the many youngsters who fail to make the grade each year, the fundamental issue of how to improve success rates among scholars has still to be addressed.”
New Leaf Support provides all aspects of change management leadership training. We work with football clubs and academies to ensure they have a robust and comprehensive support system in place for released players, which includes careers advice and training as well as psychological support, coaching and mentoring. This can include specialist services, such as drug, alcohol and gambling support.
We are dedicated to providing a genuine, personal approach to career transition, and have created a bespoke programme for football clubs to manage that care. It has a proven track record of delivering effective interventions and support for young professional footballers and their families. Ultimately it’s about putting control back in their hands.