Sunday, 20 January 2013

But what will you do after football?

This weekend I read this article that highlighted the fragility of dreams, particularly sporting dreams, and particularly the dreams of hundreds of thousands of aspiring teeneage footballers at schools around the nation (world).

At the end of an important week in the premier transfer window the stark realisation that not every aspiring footballer will be watching a hundred thousand pounds fall nonchalantly into their bank account every week. The story of  Michael Johnson is one that every careers advisor will be laminating and sticking to their careers wall with a certain complacent smile. It is one of those stories that proves a plethora of worst fears to be, in some cases at least, true and really presses home the need for students with exceptional sporting talent to always have a continguency plan. The idea of a fallback is very much the key to this, because I firmly believe that if someone truly views sport as their life then they should be encouraged to pursue this. Students should, however be encouraged to do to things: firstly to consider, realistically their life if sport does not work out, and secondly to consider why it is they are pursuing the sport in the first place.

The first of those reasons is, I hope, reasonably obvious in its importance. From a personal perspective I knew four peers who where signed to academy teams for premiership rugby and football teams. None of these made the cut. The world of sport is competitive and cutthroat and this is correct. In order to run a successful team you have to recruit agressively and cut to only the best in order to remain economical. Sport is a competitive buisness. Sport as a social entity has evolved (devolved) beyond the functional leisure activity and into a vile characature of itself. Football, in particular, has a reputation of a violent, churning treadmill of prospective teen sensations that are dissolutioned, washed out and left with less qualifications than the prerequisite amount of sticks needed to rub together to make a fire.

So close down the football academies, because they are the root of the problems. This is clearly a hyperbolic fallacy.Close down football then, because it gives unrealistic expectations to students? We must know our range, and our range does not extend to this, and so the answer is to educate. The answer is to firstly investigate why it is students aspire to this football ideal. From my experience football aspirationalism propagates in its strongest form in areas of economic depression and this is linked to the ideal of a masculine cinderella complex. Young boys do not want to be good at football. They do not want to work hard and play for the love of the game. They want to, in the words of one student 'Have bare loads of dollar and smoking girls.' (This is not a fabrication. This is a factual quotation. This child really said this.) Students are losing the concept of working hard in order to gain something and this is why football is seen as the easy way. In many students' minds they believe that in order to be good at football you simply need to be good at football. They do not realise that in order to gain the lifestyle they fetishise (word of the week) they need to be out running every morning, and in the gym lifting weights, and constantly running drills. These young impresionable boys need to understand this and understand that even if they do have the skill level and the commitment and are in the right place at the right time they may still get injured and their dream may crumple like a striker as a result of a malicious tackle.

It is imperitive that students are not put off their dreams but they need to understand what it entails to achieve. It is imperitive that students are prepared for continguency and, although it sounds a little harsh, failure. It is particularly imperitive that students realise that nothing is free, or innate, or easy, and that in sport, particularly, there is no hiding, no easy rides and no certainties. In many sports, it is a sad fact that if you are not already competing at at least a national standard by the time you are sixteen, you are extremely unlikely to succeed at the highest level.

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