Over 2.5 million adults regularly play football in the UK. A friend of mine who plays in National League South once said to me that he hadn't 'made it', when discussing his English Football League scholarship and subsequent release from a professional club. Shortly before this I'd heard a stat that anyone who plays in the top 6 divisions, for those that don't know that’s:
1. Premier League
3. EFL 1
4. EFL 2
5. The National League
6. The National League North & South (two leagues of the same level split geographically)
...is in the top 0.1% of footballers in the country in terms of ability. Not just English footballers, that includes all nationalities that play the game in England. So my response was ''Haven't made it?! You're one of the top footballers in the country! You're in the tiny fraction of the cream of the crop!''.
That level it includes the plumbers, teachers and postmen that play part time and earn a few quid on top of their full time wage. We hear about the glitz and the glamour of professional football, but many full-time pro footballers don't earn a fortune and have very little job security. They can be out of work in a flash and forced to move to the other end of the country to continue making a living. Worse still have they can have their dreams shattered in an instant. For female footballers the prize is much smaller and chances of 'making it' even slimmer given the lack of opportunities at present (although that's beginning to change). My message to my footballer friend was that what he has achieved is exceptional and the level he has reached is remarkable given the numbers involved.
So if my friend felt like he hadn't made it, then what about the rest of us who never even got close to playing at his level? If you ask a cross-section of young footballers what they are aiming for, no doubt many would say they are working hard to become a professional or to play for England. Kids should absolutely follow their dreams and reach for the stars, but along the journey they must enjoy it. At the average professional club less than 10% of Academy players earn a scholarship and maybe one or two youth team players (scholars) will sign a pro. So for me, whilst following your dreams, having ambition and believing in yourself are absolutely the right things to do... enjoying your footballing journey is of paramount importance. The cold hard fact is.... the chances are that your son or daughter won't 'make it' to the Premier League and play for Liverpool/Man United/Arsenal/Chelsea (delete as appropriate) or whoever else. But they should absolutely dream and pursue that goal if that's what inspires them. For parents my message would be... don't use that as a pressure, use it as inspiration.
Aiming to win the World Cup for England should inspire a child. I remember running around the garden at home pretending I was Alan Shearer, scoring the winner for England at Wembley Stadium! That developed my love the game. Just don't cross that line int turning ambition into pressure. As a parent you can inspire your child. Join in the role play. Pretend you're Messi and your son is Ronaldo in the back garden! Create the 'goal of the season' together, commentate on it as you play and have fun! Run off celebrating, slide on your knees or make up a celebration! Who knows, your child might be as good as one of them one day, but there are no guarantees. The only guarantee is that football will stay with your child as a positive influence for life if... you and they approach 'making it' in the right way.
For me, I've made it! I still get to be a child and have fun with a ball and better still, inspire others. If you still love football and still enjoy it.. then in my eyes you've made it!! What's even better for me is I get to provide innovative, educational and inspirational experiences for thousands of children and play my part in developing their life-long passion and association with the beautiful game.
Get in touch as I'd love you to share your stories of how football has inspired you, or inspires your child today.