What is a scholarship?Dalton Harris
A scholarship is a 2 year contract for boys aged 16 and over. It’s also known as an apprenticeship and is the first step for a schoolboy making it to a professional footballer, as it’s usually the first time in a young players career that they train every day. It’s a learning to curve where football truly becomes their life, often getting a taste of what it’s like to be a professional footballer.
Often half-way through their U16 year, they have an assessment with the club and coaches who reveal whether you are going to be offered a scholarship by the club or not. If they’re not, they’re released from their contract and are free to trial and look for another club. However, if they’re successful and are asked to join the club fulltime on a scholarship they carry on training with the club and are often integrated into the Youth Team throughout the remainder of the season.
Upon completion of the child’s GCSE’s, the scholarship usually starts around 1st July, which means that the player does not have a summer holiday and joins the squad to train and play full time for pre-season. Sometimes clubs will go away on a tour for pre-season, so you may have the chance to travel with your teammates and experience playing a different nationality.
Players who live usually more than 45 minutes away from the football club are moved into digs, although this varies with each club. Digs is another name for living closer to the club and the club usually has families who provide a home and bedroom for each year. Again, each club is different but you may live with another teammate at a family’s house, or you may be on your own with a dedicated family.
Whilst you’re now officially a professional footballer, you’re expected to act like one and train with intensity and make that step up. At 16 years old, it’s a big step up to become part of a squad of 16-20 players who all become friends, and fight for your own place and your own individual contract.
Throughout the 2 years, you’ll be exposed to the first team, first team management and club rules. At most clubs, the youth team players are required to train all week and attend college 1.5 days a week to study a BTECH Diploma. It’s at both the club’s and college’s discretion whether the player is allowed to study A-Levels as a lot of the learning is independently based and self-taught. The BTECH is the equivalent to 2 A-Levels and University dependent, is enough to apply to Universities.
Alongside the training, playing and learning, players are required to study and practice for a coaching badge, which requires a certain amount of coaching hours and different stages of development. I offered to coach 5 and 6 year olds which were rewarding, but often the player coaches a session for the youth team.
Once the first year is finished, usually around may, players have their summer holiday for anywhere between 4-6 weeks holiday, but will be given a specific off season programme before resuming pre-season as a second year. This is your final year to impress coaches and first team managers with your ability and aptitude to earn yourself a professional contract. Throughout your scholarship, you may be lucky enough to become involved with the U21’s, U23’s or the reserves of which is another chance to stand out and make an impression on the senior management.
Usually around January – March time an assessment is held where you are told whether you have been successful and impressed throughout your 2 years and have earned a professional contract, or whether you’ve been unsuccessful and will be released at the end of the season.
Once the decision has been made by the club, you’ll either stay and train to keep fit whilst you look for another club and attend exit trials, or there is the option of applying and attending University, which of course, is the route that I took. However, if you’ve been selected for a professional contract, you’ll become integrated within the first team towards the end of the season.