Prioritise your future: the importance of looking forward in sport

Guest post from Jamie Proctor, footballer for Port Vale FC.

My football journey started out aged 7 for Preston North End, my boyhood club. I progressed through the system and signed professional terms aged 18. This was a dream come true. The sacrifice, dedication and commitment I had shown for all those years felt like it was finally paying off. After a full season in the first team, I made the move to Premier League Swansea City aged 19. At this stage of my life, all I could see was positives. My career would be plain sailing and I would live the stereotypical footballer’s life that everyone outside of football believes is the case.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Eight years, eleven clubs and six surgeries later, aged 29, my outlook on life is completely different. I have had some amazing moments; football has given me so much and my career has shaped me into the man I am today. However, there have been extremely challenging times. Situations that life as a young apprentice simply cannot prepare you for. Stress, anxiety, injury, unemployment, family, moving home and the most frightening? An uncertain future.

This is where education comes in and my advice for any player, be it, just starting out as a youngster or coming to the end of their respective careers:

Start early. Regardless of anybody telling you otherwise. You will thank yourself once your career ends.

Professional sport is a ruthless environment. Nobody will look after you in this game, nobody will be there to pick you up once you’ve been released by a club, nobody will help you gain qualifications once you can’t find a job. Nothing is given to you; you must go out and do it for yourself and create the future you desire.

Studying and Playing

I always enjoyed school and regardless of my sporting success at a young age I continued to work hard and study for my own personal pride. I left high school with 11 GCSES, six of them A or above. Not every young player feels this way, it is so easy to get caught up in the emotion of ‘I want to be a footballer’ or ‘I have a professional contract, I am all set for the future now’.

Belief and ambition are fantastic but in my opinion they need to work in tandem with a huge dose of realism and professional guidance.

Studying whilst maintaining a full-time football career is difficult. I was told at many clubs to concentrate on my football and forget everything else. As much as it pains me, I can understand this argument. Managers want you to be fully focused on the here and now as they have vested interests in the on-field results. Others would say that you are studying due to a lack of belief in your ability to prosper as a player and that is why you study, with the latter also becoming a major hinderance.

My argument is that studying and education in general gives me purpose. It aids as a distraction when football isn’t going too well. I don’t buy into the ‘I am just a footballer’ nonsense, I don’t like the umbrella term, I don’t like the stereotypes and I hate the fact footballers are categorised because of their job description. Your football career will come to an end no matter what. You need to wake up every day knowing who you are as a person, your job does not define you, you need to have an identity that isn’t wrapped around one thing, in this case football.

Over the past couple years, I have preached to anybody who will listen regarding future careers and education. I would love nothing more than to be able to discuss the importance of the topic with young aspiring players who are sub consciously allowing their education to take a back seat, particularly at YTS level where a football career hangs in the balance.

Being Proactive

With my eagerness to study and learn I have tried my hand at a lot over the past few years. This is where it becomes difficult for players, you have absolutely no idea what career you want to go into when all you have known is football. My advice is to be proactive. Do something, do anything. You will find another passion. As athletes we have a huge number of transferable skills. Teamwork, resilience, competitiveness, professionalism, belief and a proven track record of success. Below is a list of just some of the qualifications I have worked towards throughout my career.

  • I started a business degree aged 19. I achieved a First Class in Sports Journalism & Broadcasting degree.
  • I am coming to the closing stages of my PGCE teaching qualification.
  • I am part way through my CII Financial Advisor exams.
  • Spent time in a board room environment studying Corporate Governance.
  • Completed various modules through the Open University including Duty of Care, Coaching Principles, Depression in Sport, Communication in Sport, Exploring Anxiety.
  • I started my own football academy which was a success before COVID.

The Plan After Sport

When I am asked about my plans for the future it can be a difficult question to answer. I love the idea of helping individuals, particularly the younger generation. I want to inspire and motivate people to succeed. This was the reasoning behind the decision to complete my PGCE with the aim of working in schools. Despite this, I am a firm believer in creating your own success and being time rich. The finance industry has always intrigued me, the combination of helping secure other people’s futures whilst building up a successful one of my own is a fascinating blend.

My intentions for the future have always been to forge a career that gives me elements that professional football hasn’t. The one aspect that will stay constant though is that I want to be in control of my own success, the harder I work the more successful I will be. This rings true in financial advice.

Despite all of this, I want to see my children grow up. I don’t want to miss a school sports day, an awards evening or my daughters dance class. Professional football doesn’t give you this freedom. My message? Study and prepare for a future that culminates in what is most important for you. It might be money, it might be an identity, it might be self-worth and pride, it could well be a combination of things.

For me, it is to make my family proud and work towards a second career that allows me to be time rich whilst helping others.

You can connect with Jamie here:

LinkedIn – Jamie Proctor

Instagram – @jproctor9

Twitter – @JPProFootball

LAPS Members can discuss Jamie’s post on our Community page.