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Preparing for A Life After Playing – Part 1

By Doug Reed

Preparing for A Life After Playing – Part 1

A playing career can end unexpectedly because of an injury or just from no longer being able to meet the demands of performing at the professional level. Many players have no plan or given any thought to what they would do if this occurs.

As Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku, who has a degree in Tourism and Public Relations, says “In football anything can happen. You can have an injury and then you won’t play at the highest level anymore. If you don’t have a diploma, what then?” Even the very few that are fortunate enough to remain playing into their 30s will have to find a new purpose for the next couple of decades of their life once they hang up their boots. Are they ready for what lies ahead?

In this first of two parts on preparing for a 2nd career, we learn why players that gain qualifications whilst still playing have a smoother and more confident transition out of the game.

The life of a professional footballer is very structured with clear requirements of what they need to do each day and the objectives they are striving to achieve. An identity forms around being a football player and being successful.

After they finish playing this is no longer there so there is a need to find a new life that will adequately replace what is lost. They must find a new purpose that offers rewarding goals, keeps them occupied and provides financially security. If this doesn’t happen problems can quickly emerge.

A New Challenge

The path to becoming a professional player involves sacrifices to develop, improve and learn from coaches as a youth player. This is the preparation that is essential to achieve their chosen career of playing football.

For their new career after playing, it requires the same approach. Football teaches a wealth of valuable skills, but players need to prepare in order to know how to transfer all this experience into a different context and fill in the gaps of their knowledge related to their next profession.

Some players choose to leave this until after finishing their playing careers but this risks a period where they are not earning, lack motivation and are suddenly without the regular social interaction and support that comes with being part of a football team.

More and more are beginning their preparation whilst they are still playing with lots of education options available that can fit around their commitments and schedules. As Manchester United’s Juan Mata, who is currently studying for his third degree, says "I don't think football and studying are mutually exclusive."

One of the best goalkeepers of his generation who has gone on to become Ajax CEO, Edwin Van de Sar, gained a master's degree in Sports and Brand Management after his career, but he advises “I would urge players to study, to learn a language or take up a commercial course. It’s going to help you. Don’t just look at the Playstation.”

Some of the reasons that players have not undertaken education whilst still playing in the past include not yet knowing what career they want to pursue, worrying they don’t possess the required intelligence, believing studying will negatively affect their performance or that it is preparing for failure in their playing careers.

These are misguided beliefs that should not discourage players from studying. In Part 2 we will illustrate this with examples from players who have studied during their playing career whilst competing at the highest level.

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