Aspiring young footballers embark on a journey that holds the promise of glory, but is fraught with uncertainty. The pursuit of their dreams typically begins in professional club academies, where they hone their skills with the hope of one day gracing the professional stage. The sobering reality is that there are only so many places available in top-flight football, some will make it, but many more won’t.
It’s a cruel fact of football that not all gifted youngsters, even those who make it as far as Under 18s and possibly even the odd appearance with the senior squad, will end up enjoying a long and lucrative career. It’s an issue that football in general is becoming more aware of.
In the pursuit of football excellence, Academy Manager Ian Sampson, a former Northampton Town FC player, empathises with the uncertain journey of aspiring young players. Recognising the challenges they face, he’s partnering with Competitive Edge, a business training company, to launch a Life Skills programme. This initiative not only enhances their on-field performance but also equips them with essential life skills for a post-football career. It’s a timely response to the stark reality that not all talented young players will achieve long and lucrative football careers.
Mark Thompson, the lead consultant delivering the programme, said:
“Our Life Skills programme has been designed to help players understand that many of the character strengths required to be a successful footballer, equally provide them an edge to be successful in many other settings – in their personal and work life.”
The key topics include high-performance teams, leadership, financial awareness, business thinking, communication, resilience, personal responsibility, emotional intelligence and problem solving.
Mark said: “Our goal is to empower academy players with self-awareness, improved interpersonal skills, and a broader perspective of the world, business, and work. They will not only have the confidence that they are ready for life alongside or after football, but they will have a certificate to evidence to future employers that they have undergone the programme.”
Mark developed a love for training and developing young people during his career in insurance, helping new recruits find their feet and learn about the business. A change of direction led him to education and training – as well as his work with the Cobblers, he also teaches Business Studies two days a week at Northampton College.
At a pre-season camp with the Northampton Town Academy players, the training on the pitch was combined with an introduction to Mark and the work he will be doing with the players, starting with some experiential learning and ice-breaking sessions. Now that they’re back in full training, Mark will work with them for an afternoon every two weeks to work on their personal development, alongside their BTEC qualification.
Lower league clubs, despite their limited budgets and resources compared to Premier League giants, remain steadfast in their commitment to nurturing young talents. However, budget constraints hinder them from investing in high-quality programmes like Competitive Edge’s Life Skills initiative, which is currently running as a pilot.
Mark’s hope is that funding from professional footballing bodies and the resources available at the top level can eventually trickle down to support programmes like these. To make this pilot programme a reality this season, local companies such as BQI Insurance, Starting Off, and the registered charity Kelly’s Heroes have stepped in as programme partners, contributing to some but not all of the costs.
In this collaborative effort, it is hoped that more businesses will step in to help, not necessarily with financial support, but to offer mentoring, work placements, and the benefits of their business experience.