Education is also important

The importance of education for young footballers is highlighted this week by the case of Jermaine Pennant, the Arsenal star on loan to Birmingham, who was jailed this week for motoring offences.

The importance of education for young footballers is highlighted this week by the case of Jermaine Pennant, the Arsenal star on loan to Birmingham, who was jailed this week for motoring offences.

It is a cautionary tale for any young player with talent and the opportunities of fame and fortune that the game can offer.

FA Youth Cup winner Pennant was the kid who had everything going for him; signed for a £2 million fee as a teenager from Notts County and progressing through the England ranks.

But he has failed to fulfil his enormous potential despite some good performances for Arsenal, on loan at Leeds United last season and now with Birmingham City.


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He pleaded guilty to a string of motoring offences and will have to rebuild his football career after completing his jail sentence.

The FA Academy system places a lot of emphasis on developing life skills as well as football ability.

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Some young players are better suited than others for academic education and gaining qualifications for their life after football.

All Academy scholars are aiming on getting a career as a player but the reality may turn out differently.

But the personal skills developed will prove useful to them wherever they end up playing the game - full-time, part-time or non-league.

Every Academy has an education officer while other adult staff provide support and mentoring.

At Ipswich the education officer is Sammy Morgan, a former professional himself and also a high school teacher. Morgan told me: “Footballers are in the public eye, that is a fact of life.

“Part of the course the boys do is about dealing with the media and the role of the sports person.

“This week they have been reading and writing about the Pennant incident and what it means to them.

“Just like a parent with a son or daughter you hope to educate them to prepare them to act responsibly.

“Sports people are in the public eye and those temptations are huge.

“As a club you try to make them aware of those things. We will discuss obligations and responsibilities.

“They have a responsibility as role models. Our Under-18s, for example, are looked up to by the younger lads. And we like to encourage that continuity.

“The week before the FA Youth Cup tie against Aston Villa, Liam Craig and Shane Supple had been doing some coaching with the under-12s and 13s.

“Then the younger players were supporting them at Portman Road against Villa.”

The Academy scholars continue studies at school or on courses at Otley College or Suffolk College.

There are sessions on core skills, outside trips and visiting speakers are brought in.

“The main thing is the boys come with the target of becoming professional footballers, that is where their heart is really,” Morgan added. “They are looking to earn that first professional contract.

“Because of the rate of success and failure some 80 per cent will not do so.

“The majority of lads will go into employment and play football part time.

“You have to find the balance between being positive and realistic, without killing their dreams. It is hard but they have to be equipped if that happens.

“You try to bring them along in the right direction, and expose them to dealing with situations.

“Bryan (Klug) and the coaches have a football development programme for the boys who have come into full-time, physical training. They are physically tired and need their rest time.

“But we stress they need to continue with their education for whatever the future holds.”

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