Most professionals normally start their careers after the pursuit of a college degree; aspiring professional athletes however, must adhere to a different timeline due to their heavy reliance on their physical attributes. Thus, age (and time) is of the essence for them. Ideally, if the situation is adequate and athletes have an option to turn pro as early as mid-teenagers, many choose to do so. Unfortunately, in some of those cases, their academic development assumes a secondary role. Some athletes only get to finish high school, others only get to start college, but most professional footballers don’t even get to set foot on a college campus to play “college soccer” or pursue an academic degree.
One of our founding fathers Ben Franklin once said, there are two things in life that are certain: death and taxes. Although he continues to be mostly correct, there are other absolute truths in life that are equally certain for professionals. For example, any professional will eventually cease practicing their trade and the corresponding remuneration. More specifically, all professional athletes will be forced into retirement much sooner than other college degreed professions and then, what comes next?
Domestically, one of the most financially life-impacting sacrifices a young footballer (and their family) makes could be forfeiting their NCAA eligibility in order to pursue a professional football career. However, contrary to popular belief, that sacrifice doesn’t necessarily mean the footballer needs to give up the pursuit of a college degree altogether. In fact, as footballers, they probably have the most free time to continue their education (be it high school or college) during their playing careers.
High school (HS) is the most basic level of education an athlete should strive to complete. This education level should be non-negotiable especially with the various flexible online options available. It should not only be completed for the opportunity to one day pursue a college education but ultimately, for personal satisfaction -pride if you will-. If an aspiring professional footballer does not possess the discipline to finish a HS curriculum, what should we expect for the rest of their professional footballer career in terms of objectives and discipline to achieve them? Talent alone won’t be enough.
Most professional clubs’ main focus is to develop professional footballers and (knowingly or not) end up neglecting the players’ academic development. It’s a numbers game; most clubs are not staffed to dedicate time or resources to monitor (and much less assist with) players’ HS academics. Their efforts are almost exclusively focused around finding the next academy player who could either be sold for a hefty fee to finance the academy costs for the next couple of years or who could contribute to the first team. Makes sense. Football is a business and it’s all about winning and money (not in that order for some).
Not only are professional clubs mostly interested in the football development aspect of the player; most players agents are too. Rarely would either talk academics (especially agents) beyond the forced “how’s school going?”. Thus, the academic responsibility falls on the young footballer and their family. As parents, we must not let our footballer neglect their HS education on account of the pursuit of a professional playing career. They are never mutually exclusive and allowing diverging paths, can have long-lasting financial effects for the footballer. Here are some cold facts that could be used to further incentivize young footballers to continue their HS education:
- As a profession, a football career span is extremely short. Among all American mainstream sports, it’s the shortest.
- Footballers try to prolong their professional playing careers by starting as mid-teenagers but that normally comes at the expense of a free (or cost-reduced) college education.
- Footballers, like any other athletes, are only an injury away from football retirement. Having an academic-based contingency plan is good planning.
- Very few footballers will ever earn enough money to last post-full-age retirement (from 35-retirement age). The average salary of football players in MLS is the lowest of all American mainstream sports.
- Footballers are on short-term contracts. No money is ever guaranteed beyond a few years. As brutally lengthy as some find MLS contracts to be (3+2), 3 years of guaranteed money is good (especially for a teenager); however, that amount of time doesn’t get footballers to full-age retirement even after playing for an average of 7-10 years.
- Very few footballers can make a living in the same industry (coaching, commentating, etc.) after their playing careers are over.
It’s of utmost importance to finish a HS education in order to aspire to higher academic choices and be better prepared for the future. Generally speaking, more education translates into good and more stable employment in a given field later in life.
Some families believe that turning into a professional footballer means giving up a college degree. That is not necessarily true. While professional footballers cannot return to play “collegiate soccer” at an amateur level by earning an athletic scholarship playing, they are welcome at any college/university provided they foot their own bill or rely on non-football financial aid (academics or financial need). So it’s a money situation. A college education is expensive and a community college may be the most financially viable way to start that pursuit.
Certainly, as a late teenager, a college education can be delayed a few years and yet a football career can’t. Postponing a college education a few years until a footballer has gone through the rigors of the profession may result in better preparation to meet life’s demands. The development of skills such as discipline, time management, analytical skills, team work, accountability, networking, and additional knowledge only gained through the sum of playing years (maturity) can be very valuable. But why wait until the football career is over? In fact, very few footballers finish their playing careers and then pursue a degree from scratch.
Take some college courses while playing and get the core courses out of the way. While that HS knowledge is fresh, leverage it. An additional benefit is that when the footballer finally concludes their playing career, they will have fewer credits to complete a degree and will be that much closer to having post-playing academic-based professional career choices. Alternatively, they will have completed enough credits for either an Associates or technical degree, or to transfer to a full four-year university.
Sometimes, a four-year college degree can be pursued during the footballer’s playing days. In the past, players such as Orlando’s Tesho Akindele, Chicago’s Fabian Herbers, and others have either completed what they had started at a brick and mortar university or concluded one from scratch. Currently, players like Mark Mckenzie, Paxton, Johan, etc. are pursuing their college degree during their playing days. It’s very possible but it requires some desire, a lot of motivation and further sacrifices (yes, some PlayStation time).
In the past MLS/USL teams have made it easier for players and staff to pursue a college education by partnering with some higher level institutions. This is a great first step; however, the initiative has to be taken by the player (with a little nudge by the family).
MLS offers (or used to) a partnership with Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) through which they could pursue a college degree. It was a convenient, and cheaper alternative but ultimately players in MLS should be responsible for seeking their academic alternatives that best suit their needs.
European based players do not have the benefit of an NHSU partnership at a reduced cost; in fact, they usually have a higher wall to climb as they are required to learn a new language: Chris Richards (German), Reggie (Portuguese), Bryan Reynolds (Italian), etc. In Johan’s specific case, the obligatory Portuguese classes have served him as a continuity learning bridge between the end of his HS curriculum and the beginning of his college degree. No learning gap in between.
The longer a footballer (or anybody) goes without the academic rigors of a classroom (virtual or not), the more difficult it will be to return to a learning environment in life ultimately reducing the opportunities post a playing-career. Nurturing a growth mindset from early on on children, can be the difference. Parents…lead by example. It’s never too late.
Some may argue that a piece of paper is just as good as the connections in life. While we tend to agree with the general concept, it’s important to keep a growth mindset at all times. Networking indeed opens doors; however, talent, and a growth mindset will keep those doors open and in turn open even more. Always be curious, hungry for more and never stop learning. Whether that’s via a formal education or not. Don’t become stale, learn a new skill, a different language (points at self), a new hobby, etc. It may not necessarily be for a lucrative reason but challenge yourself often.
All young footballers dream of becoming professional players at some point in their lives. After all, who wouldn’t want to reap the benefits of years of intense training, full of sacrifices. Realistically, very few will be financially set for life just from their playing career earnings.
As parents, we must help them transition into that phase of their lives by being educated in certain aspects of the profession. Football professionalism is achievable but nevertheless short. Will the young players be prepared for the career after their playing days are over? Teach them to have a growth mindset and adapt. They will forever be grateful once their playing careers are over. Please continue interacting with us. We love it. #theGomezway