By Stiliyan Petrov
If you are one of the lucky ones, you retire from professional football well into your 30s. At this age, you are still only around halfway through your working life. Even if your financial needs are taken care of, you need something to pursue to keep you busy and motivated.
As a player, I had a clear goal of what I was striving for and aiming to achieve. I wanted to develop, stand for something, win trophies and leave a legacy as well as provide for my family. If someone asked me what I was doing with my life, I had an immediate and well-defined answer.
This was all taken away when I was no longer able to play professional football any more and that void needed replacing.
After I retired I had so many ideas and opportunities in front of me but no clear focus of what I wanted to achieve and the direction I was heading. There were thoughts about coaching, becoming a sporting director, building a media career and working for my charity that supports people with leukaemia and cancer.
Coaching was the one I pursued the most. I worked in Aston Villa’s academy for a while and earned the UEFA Pro qualification, which means you can work at the highest level. When I do something, I give everything to ensure I am making a difference. I realised with coaching that would mean a lot of time away from my family and that was a sacrifice I wasn’t prepared to make.
The period from when I finished playing to finding another pursuit that excited me, and I was sure about, was six and a half years. That is a long time not knowing what to do or where you are going.
I went down many different paths, trying different things and gaining various qualifications. Fortunately, I am one of the lucky few that could afford this time to reflect, explore and find a place I belong, but I still feel such an extensive and difficult transition was unnecessary.
Throughout my career, I saw older teammates retire and struggle with their new situations. I was determined I did not want to end up like that, but I still didn’t do anything about it. I mistakenly thought I had to solely focus on staying in the team, winning and earning my next contract.
As professional players, we have achieved our childhood dreams, and this gives us the false impression that everything will always turn out as we hope. But after we finish playing we find ourselves in a situation where we feel incapable and lost and this leads to so many problems.
Developing The Person
Players should prepare for the inevitable of what comes next. They have to explore different opportunities they can create for themselves. They need to learn about themselves; what their values are, their interests, their strengths and weaknesses.
We should see ourselves beyond only the football player and instead as a rounded person where football is just one element of our lives.
So, what is my new purpose?
I want to help players learn from the successes and failures I experienced through my life. I don’t want them to suffer like I did when they finish their careers. I want them to have a voice. I want them to be empowered. I want them to achieve their ambitions.
That is why I co-founded Player 4 Player with some other former players who share the same vision.
We support and mentor current and former players. We help them understand themselves and gain the knowledge, experience, and confidence to achieve both within and outside the game. We help them recognise all the valuable skills they have learned as players and how they can transfer them to different areas.
This is what Player 4 Player is all about. Developing players and people. We are all passionate, determined and committed to delivering on this mission.
Stiliyan Petrov was speaking to Doug Reed.