Another goal for those still game

12th October 2007 at 01:00

Nearly every football club in the country now offers advanced apprenticeships.

Every teenager who dreams of footballing glory needs to be able to fall back on a non-playing career, and clubs are increasingly giving their newcomers a more rounded education both in the game and in sport generally.

The sporting excellence advanced apprenticeship, launched in 2004, is now running in 82 of the 92 Premiership and Football League clubs with 1,200 youngsters on the two-year course.

Chris Powell, Charlton Athletic player and chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association, says: "This scheme is a breakthrough for the industry.

"I'm coming towards the end of my career as a professional player, so I'm considering future options. I commend any programme that provides the skillset to maintain a career in football and then enable smooth transition out of it."

The introduction of the scheme came as clubs recognised the importance of off the-pitch skills and began to move away from simply training youngsters to play the game.

The qualification prepares them for different, but still sport-related jobs if their playing careers do not work out or come to a natural end.

Eighteen-year-old Matt Goodwin achieved his apprenticeship at Leicester City FC, but an injury forced him to retire from football. With the skills he had gained, he was able to take a different career route, studying sports and exercise sciences at Loughborough University.

On this course he spent 10 hours a week in college, studying fitness, nutrition and psychology for sports performance, and nine hours training on the pitch, plus weekly matches.

"The apprenticeship has been my passport to a better career," he says. "Being a great footballer is not just about the practical side of playing the sport. A professional sportsperson should also understand issues such as fitness and nutrition, and have the opportunity to develop specialist skills in coaching or officiating, for example. The apprenticeship offers a grounding in all these.

"Not being able to gain a permanent contract, I still wanted to work in sport, so the skills I learnt were invaluable."

Russell Grocott, education and welfare officer at Leicester City, says: "Employers in the sporting world are really taking responsibility for what happens to our talented young sportspeople and making a long-term investment in training. The education programme helps talented athletes to achieve their career goals in the sport they love or more generally in the wider sporting world."

John Thorpe of SkillsActive, the active leisure and learning council, says: "The advanced apprenticeship is now being rolled out to a range of sports, including tennis, rugby union, swimming, golf and cricket."

Footballers' careers, like those of most athletes, are in decline by their early 30s. Some careers will be cut short due to injury, loss of form or employers' financial constraints. Many of those who today represent their nation on the world stage will come to rely on second careers.

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