Have you been kicking a football around since you can remember? Do you spend every spare minute practising your technique? Are you passionate about the game? Have players like Gareth Bale, Lucy Bronze, Jamie Vardy or Harry Maguire inspired you?
Becoming a professional footballer is a dream career for many young people. In this article we look at how to get into playing football professionally and give you ideas for great alternative careers.
What is involved?
A professional footballer will tell you that what you see on the pitch is only a fraction of the hard work involved. They also:
- attend regular team training sessions
- work on their technique
- spend time in the gym
- analyse their performance and take advice from coaches, sport scientists and psychologists.
There may also be public relations work for the club or sponsors – media interviews, community events, charity work…
Do you have what it takes?
Along with talent, you need:
- commitment and ambition
- a positive attitude – confidence in your ability, accepting of criticism and resilience in order to deal with the pressures
- excellent teamworking skills
- to be very fit and agile with quick reactions and stamina.
You also have to be prepared to travel and possibly live away from home, perhaps overseas, and be happy to follow a strict lifestyle!
How to become a professional footballer
There’s no set route to becoming a professional. Occasionally scouts will spot players with potential or you could go along to a trial. Some clubs run community schemes to nurture talent. The major clubs have development programmes at academies or centres of excellence for children and young people – male and female – with potential.
Training to start with is usually during the evenings and weekends, but you may be allowed some time off school to train, or train full time, possibly at an academy away from home. There are different stages of training and your performance is reviewed every year.
Once you reach 16, you may get through to the professional development phase, but this is extremely competitive! By 19 (sometimes younger), you may get a contract with the club you’ve been training with, or be selected for another.
There are some initiatives specifically to support female talent, including the FA Girls’ England Talent Pathway.
Throughout your training, you have to continue your education. Your club may support you to take the Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence. A new Apprenticeship standard is available in England and similar programmes run in the rest of the UK.
Your football governing body – The FA in England, FAW (The Football Association of Wales), the Scottish FA or The Irish FA – can tell you more about training and you can find information through the leagues, including League Football Education and the Premier League.
How to get experience
Get involved in sport as much as possible and work on your fitness. Apart from playing football with your friends, you need to be playing for a team – your school or college side, community team or county/district squad.
It’s important to have a back-up plan in case you don’t end up playing professionally, you suffer an injury or don’t get reselected.
As you’ll see below, there are some great alternative careers – some in football and others in sport in general. For entry to certain careers, you need to take specific qualifications, but for others, more general further and higher education courses in sport can be useful. There are a few programmes that focus on football, such as those at UCFB. Apprenticeships also offer a training route for certain careers.
Coaching – there are opportunities to coach football with children and adults of all ages and abilities. The focus varies depending on the group you are coaching, but in most cases you’ll run training sessions, demonstrate techniques and give feedback and encouragement. Courses and qualifications in coaching at different levels are available. Many people initially coach on a voluntary basis. The UK Coaching website is a good starting point for information.
Refereeing – there’s a demand for referees to ensure that matches – played by amateurs and professionals – are fair. Various training schemes are available through the football governing bodies, including The FA and FAW.
Football management – people like Phil Neville and Gareth Southgate are essentially head coaches – excellent leaders – but, just as in any industry, managers are also needed to deal with club finances, marketing, operations etc.
Other career areas related to sport that you could consider include:
- sports development – promoting a sport or fitness in general
- sports medicine and healthcare – physiotherapists, dietitians, osteopaths, chiropractors and doctors can all specialise in working with sportspeople
- sport and exercise science – applying scientific principles to improve performance; areas of work include biomechanics, physiology and psychology
- sports therapy – ensuring that people exercise and compete safely, assessing injuries and providing treatment including sports massage
- fitness instructing
- personal training
- teaching PE – you will spend time organising matches and sporting activities, and may have to teach other subjects in addition to PE
- leisure centre management – overseeing operations, promoting facilities, dealing with recruitment, training and staff rotas, budgeting and so on
- groundskeeping – looking after football pitches
- sports journalism, broadcasting or photography
- event management – organising sporting events, from hiring venues to selling tickets
- representing sportspeople – as an agent negotiating contracts, arranging sponsorship deals etc.
If you have what it takes to be a professional footballer, go for it! But do have a plan B. Take your education to the highest level you can so that options are open to you; as explained, there are all sorts of related careers. And don’t forget, you can always enjoy playing football as an amateur.
With a background working with apprentices and teaching in further education, Debbie was employed as an in-house careers author before establishing herself as a freelancer. As well as co-authoring numerous careers books, Debbie has produced resources and web content for a range of high-profile clients including Health Careers, the Royal Society of Chemistry and English Heritage.