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The Adam Doyle column: Off-season pursuits - education, education, education

With the summer break firmly underway most footballers have probably been spending their time jetting off to Z-list celeb hangouts such as Marbella or Magaluf and enjoying a well-earned rest in preparation for a gruelling pre-season.

Whilst I’m sure it’s fun topping up your tan on a Balearic island, I can’t help but think that the majority of footballers aren’t spending their free time wisely.

If you are earning 40 grand a week you can probably afford to fritter your time away in trivial pursuits. It’s those young lads barely earning a liveable wage that I worry about.

In the top few tiers of non-league you will find a lot of players whose sole occupation is playing football. They all have the same dream of climbing the professional ranks, winning the life-changing contract, and earning their pot of gold.

For many this fantasy will never materialise. Instead they will scrape around the lower levels living hand-to-mouth, blissfully unaware of the challenges that lay ahead post-football.

There is nothing wrong with having a dream to excel at your chosen profession, but a time comes when you must take a more pragmatic approach to life. There must be a plan B. We can’t all be James Dean, living everyday as if it’s our last.

The trouble with most young footballers I come across is that they haven’t been given the necessary tools or information they need in order to tackle a world in which they can’t just rely on their feet to do the talking. And some, for better or worse, simply don’t care.

The sooner a young player starts to think about a life outside of football the better positioned he will be to tackle it.

Clubs at non-league level are struggling to survive. The margin between success and oblivion is thin, a fact highlighted by the number of clubs that face financial difficulties every season.

Player safeguards

So in my opinion every player should safeguard himself against potential calamities and take the opportunity the summer break affords him. Go out and educate yourself. Learn a trade; a new skill; learn anything that will give you an edge when the legs won’t carry you anymore.

This doesn’t have to be confined to the off season. Instead it should be a continuous process of self education and preparation for a career outside of football.

Fortunately for me, I never looked at football as the only avenue in my life. Sure, it was ever-present, but I never really aspired to earn a living from it.

Earning money for football was something I rather fell into after completing my university degree. I got my education, got my foot on the career ladder, and was fortunate to find someone willing to pay me to kick a ball as far as I could.

However, persuading a young prospect to consider his future by using his head and not just his feet is easier said than done.

The overriding feeling within the football fraternity that a lack of education is a badge of honour is a pernicious trend that needs to be firmly snuffed out. Undoubtedly the football scholarship programmes are a step in the right direction, but I feel more could be done to offer prolonged advice and guidance to players.

It is in this area that I think football clubs need to take more responsibility. When players are young they are taught how to play football with only a cursory nod towards academia.

In my opinion they are equally important. Once they emerge from the scholarship schemes, hopefully with an A level or two, their brief brush with education often comes to a shuddering halt.

If they go on to play men’s level football, these young lads – consumed and blinded by their passion for football – neglect to think outside of their football box.

Opportunity provision

Football clubs, including those in non-league, need to have a system in place that allows young players to see the world outside of fame and fortune.

Fortunately, the opportunities are all around. A modern football club is a living, breathing business with ample opportunities for players to immerse themselves in its day-to-day operations.

For instance, many club directors are successful businesspeople who could surely offer even the slightest bit of advice and guidance.

Failing this, a structure should be set in place that at least offers the players access to education and training. The benefits are not just one directional.

Players who are given the opportunity to learn and interact with the club in a non-playing capacity are likely to be more engaged and to feel a greater sense of loyalty to the club.

It is understandable that in times of austerity for many non-league clubs, perhaps there isn’t the capital needed to set aside for such structures, but there is no excuse for a lack of enthusiasm and belief that a community football club should be about more than just the legacy of its on-field actions.

And as for my summer holidays: unfortunately it didn’t involve a swanky trip to Mexico with some of the Woking players.

For me it’s business as usual. Up at 7am every morning, a 40-minute journey through subterranean London, and then an 8-hour working day.

But at least I’ve got Saturdays off, if only for another couple of weeks.

By Adam Doyle - Follow him on Twitter @adamhdoyle

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