The Value of Education for Youth Players and The Responsibilities of Academies
Of those youth players that enter the academy system from nine years of age, the percentage of those that make it as a professional is around 0.5%. Only 180 out of 1.5million young footballers in English football Academies will sign professional contracts; that’s an even lower statistic of 0.012%. Those that are released from academies at an early age are still given adequate opportunity to refocus upon their academic performance. However, those that continue in an academy past the age of 14 are required to commit a significant amount of time to their football training. This makes it difficult for them to simultaneously work sufficiently to achieve good grades at school.
This is another troubling statistic as a high percentage of those that even make it to the apprentice stage in a youth academy still fail to make a career in football. This blog will explore the responsibilities of these academies in ensuring that if their youth players do fall short of the standard required for professional football, they are at least academically qualified and in a position to pursue other careers. I will assess the value that these academies place upon education as well as other initiatives used in football leagues to promote careers beyond football for their youth players.
EFL Youth Development Program
Education and a career from academic qualifications is a far more attainable goal than making a living as a professional footballer. This is why the EFL Youth Development Program in the UK created the apprenticeship system in 2004 for English academies to work in partnership with League Football Education (LFE). The LFE emphasises the importance of not disregarding academic studies despite success so far in reaching the apprentice stage in a football academy.
45% of academy apprentices, or scholars as they are also known, will get professional contracts, yet over 95% will complete an apprentice qualification. It is usually in the form of a level 3 BTEC in Sporting Excellence although those that are high performing academically are also able to take an extended diploma which is equivalent to 3 A-Levels. The education also incorporates a UEFA C certificate in coaching to open up another alternative pathway for youth players that may need another career option.
The aim of the Youth Development program is to suitably equip academy players for a financially and socially sustainable life outside of football. Therefore, on top of extensive academic education, the LFE includes valuable life lessons and development of other vocational skills. This includes improving the youngster’s understanding of taxes, mortgages, smart investments and other necessary knowledge. This stands them in good stead for a smooth transition into the outside world should their football career not materialise as they had hoped.
Responsibility of the Academies in Supporting the Youth
I believe it should be the duty of global youth football academies in supporting those players that do not succeed in signing a professional contract after coming through the ranks of their club’s system. It is also their responsibility to emphasise the issues with the problematic perception that these youth players should only focus on football. It is wrong for anyone under the age of 18, without a professional contract to not prioritise academic development and education.
A major reason for this is the value of education and qualifications on emotional wellbeing. Education allows the youth players to develop holistically and improve their chances for a better future. It is well documented that the mental health of those that are released from football academies are often detrimentally impacted and they experience mental illnesses such as depression. If academies stress the importance of having alternative career options then players will be less prone to experiencing feelings of worthfulness or despair if they do not become a professional footballer. Instead, they will have another path to follow by utilising their academic qualifications.
The emphasis on prioritising education begins before the LFE Apprenticeship Program comes in once they become scholars. Before this, academies have a responsibility to develop and maintain a three-way relationship with themselves, the youth player and their school. Their should be open dialogue to ensure they are completing their work to a sufficient standard and are not using football as an excuse to fall behind in their academic studies. This will hopefully go some way in ensuring the child fully comprehends the value of balancing their football with succeeding at school. At GCSE level it may be unfeasible to take as many exams as their peers but academies should not stand in the way of youth players completing all of the GCSE qualifications they wish to and are able to.
The importance of education for youth academy players across the world cannot be stressed enough. Those involved in academy set ups should be fully aware of the incredibly small statistics of those that go on to enjoy a long and financially prosperous career. An alternative pathway is vital just incase. An injury is always a risk but even injury-free, nothing is guaranteed in football. It is a safe and sensible decision to focus upon academic studies alongside youth football. This way, if the player fails to make it, they are able to meet the requirements for a different pathway. This is reflected in the fact that LFE have produced apprentices that went on to be anything from plumbers to office work to coaching.