What Distractions Are There For A Young Professional Footballer?


Don’t get so busy living the lifestyle, that you forget what put you in a position to enjoy that lifestyle!

Distractions: Controllable vs uncontrollable

I put distractions into two categories:

  • The uncontrollable (the decision is out of our hands)

and

  • The controllable (we have a decision to make)

Some distractions are out of the control of the player, whilst some are brought on by the players own choices. Whether they are controllable or uncontrollable, distractions are plentiful and some are all but too tempting, yet often these distractions lead us away from the path we need to be on, to give ourselves the best chance of a career in the game.

Uncontrollable distractions in football

Signing a professional contract is a huge achievement and those who are fortunate enough to be offered one can find themselves being the centre of attention amongst family, friends, fans and the media, who can all add pressure without knowingly doing so.

We can’t control the attention, or shall I say ‘the fame’, that comes with being a professional footballer, especially a player who is highly thought of. Good performances and talent create that expectation and whilst it can be nice for the ego, it can also be difficult to handle and keep our feet on the ground.

Another example is the financial perks that can come with being a professional player. When signing a professional contract, it is more than likely the case (especially nowadays) that the player will be earning very good money, sometimes substantially more than friends and family. We can’t control the club’s valuation of us as a player and the wage they are willing to pay, this is a reward for our talent and years of dedication.

Both of these examples can affect players on and off the pitch. The added pressure can be a distraction from football because all of a sudden there is a spotlight on everything that we are doing. Whilst the sudden increase in wages would tempt most into a change of habits and lifestyle off of the pitch.

The root of these distractions is out of the player’s control. Yes, we are in control of how we perform to a certain degree and not allowing financial gain to change our ways, but both distractions stem from our ability and hard work, leaving us with no choice but to handle these distractions as best as possible.

Those early years in full-time football require 100% focus.

Controllable distractions in football

However, lifestyle choices are all things within the player’s control. Whether the player wants to or not comes down to their professionalism and discipline.

Some examples of controllable distractions:

  • The lifestyle- The lifestyle can be glamorous and players feel the urge to ‘fit in’, especially with the wages players can find themselves on all of a sudden.
  • Outside influences- Friends and peers don’t have the same commitments, with players feeling like they are missing out on enjoying life experiences. 

Players can find themselves trying to fit into the “stereotype” of a footballer.

Although the wage players are on is out of their control, how the player decides to spend it and use it is a decision only they can make. A lot of things become more accessible when earning good money and things are a lot more appealing when money is not an issue.

Remember that football is a lifestyle on and off of the pitch. As easy as it can be to get sucked into trying to live the “footballer’s lifestyle”, the reality is that for most, this will often take your focus off of performances. Remember that these things are only a reward for years of graft, discipline and dedication, which all require 100% focus.

Whilst most are out enjoying the freedom that comes with being 18, young professionals aren’t afforded that same level of freedom. 

It’s hard to not cave into peer pressure and it takes a lot of self-discipline to say “no”, but you have to make these sacrifices in the pursuit of success. At an age when we should be enjoying our social life, we have to be so driven and focused on our careers. A good support network around us can be vital in remaining focused, especially those early years as the journey into professional football begins. 

I’ve seen players who couldn’t resist the temptations dangled in front of them by friends and consequently found themselves drifting out of the game. This isn’t always the fault of the friend, normally they are just living their life as a young adult, but what they don’t always understand and can’t grasp is, why the lifestyle they’re living is no good for their friend anymore. If they aren’t involved in football, they probably won’t understand the commitment and dedication required on and most importantly, off of the pitch.

We still have to find time to enjoy our life away from the pitch because without some downtime, performances and our mental health would suffer. We can still be professional with how we enjoy our social life, even if we find ourselves doing things that aren’t necessarily beneficial for elite performance. For example, that might mean going out with friends after a game, instead of in the build-up to the game.

There are the right times to enjoy your social life and there are also times when you have to put your career first.

I was fortunate enough to be a part of the youth team whilst still at school. This gave me a taste of what was to come when I left school for full-time football. Image by Neil Everitt

Avoiding every distraction is impossible and even if it was possible, there is still no entitlement to a successful career. You have to find the right balance between work and play. All of those temptations are very appealing when you are young, but they can be detrimental to your career. How you manage them will influence the path your career takes, so before you go and do it, make sure it isn’t going to have a negative impact on your performance.

It’s not always easy to say no, but it will definitely be worth it!


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