Ask any coach or mentor these days and they’ll agree that aspiring young footballers must dedicate their time to the game from an early age. It is simply what’s required to make it as a professional.
Whether players’ motivation is driven by passion, hunger or finances, football in Australia is becoming increasingly more competitive. Youthful talent is spotted earlier, trains harder and commits to realise what started out as a dream.
When the life of a professional footballer sucks you in, it may be difficult to escape its addictive clutches. But there is still a band of players who have one eye on life after the game. Some don the red and black jersey week-in week-out.
One of those is Wanderer Yianni Perkatis. The 19-year old midfielder is enjoying life amongst the first-team after marking his debut in last season’s Round 27 victory over Newcastle. It was a year full of firsts on more than one front for the Merrylands local with Perkatis also taking up his first year of university studies.
The former Wenty Waratahs and Parramatta Eagles junior is undertaking a Bachelor of Health Science (Sport and Exercise Science) Degree at the University of Western Sydney. Perkatis certainly has promise to be a starter in the future for the Wanderers but future prospects are one thing keeping the foundation player grounded during his early journey as a professional.
“It’s good to have a degree under your belt, so once you finish football you don’t have to worry about the couple of years when you’re not qualified for anything in particular,” says Perkatis.
“It’s great to have a back-up plan in case football doesn’t work out. It also helps with your football development as well.”
Possessing that Plan B is the catalyst behind why athletes are choosing to broaden their prospects through education. Studying for a footballer does not only provide balance to what can be an isolated lifestyle, it is an insurance policy against the nature of the industry.
“You never know what’s going to happen in the football world,” says Perkatis.
“That’s what I’m hopefully trying to achieve now – having myself backed up for life after football, hopefully when I’m older.
“It’s definitely something everyone needs to think about because you’re always unsure where the game will take you.”
Wanderers Official Partner University of Western Sydney has provided wonderful foundations for the pair to pursue their studies. UWS recognises that all of its students, including Hyundai A-League players, need flexibility when it comes to learning.
UWS has introduced online learning, custom designed apps for tablets & smart phones and provides all new undergraduates with a free iPad so students can learn wherever and whenever they want.
The University is proud to be part of the national Elite Athlete Friendly University program that allows students like Perkatis to combine sporting and academic excellence. Through the program UWS offers practical support for athletes to help them to balance the demands on field and in class.
“The football’s always priority and UWS helps out with consideration for assignments and exams when we’re travelling,” says Perkatis.
“It’s always possible to do both at the same time – you just need to be really good with time management and keep motivated and dedicated to actually doing study.
“The main thing is to be happy that you’re doing both things at the same time.”
The trend of footballers taking up tertiary study whilst playing has increased since the introduction of the My Football Career program in 2006. A joint Football Federation Australia and Professional Footballers Australia initiative, it is designed to assist professional footballers to become proactive life and career managers.
The program’s purpose is to help players set and achieve goals, both in and out of football, whilst preparing them for life after the game.
“A degree makes me feel comfortable and I’ll be a lot happier whenever that time comes for my career to wrap up,” says Perkatis.
“I’ll have that under my belt and I’ll be proud of myself that I did the hard work when I was younger and also have that time when I’m a bit older to sit back and focus on football a lot more.
“It’s becoming more and more popular with the football codes.”
Perkatis has found stepping out of his comfort zone beneficial towards maintaining a healthy balance.
“Studying is something extra that you think about and something that you want to do well at – not just do it for the sake of it,” says Perkatis.
“It’s a positive because it keeps your brain occupied and you’re not always thinking about football which sometimes isn’t the healthiest of things.
With a mixture of ages and personalities, a football team is somewhat reminiscent of the old schoolyard. Both environments may well share the same doubtful outlook on study but whether you’re a footballer or high school student, the benefits of pursing a tertiary education eventually come to the fore.
“I wasn’t fully convinced on studying at university when I was growing up but after thinking through it was definitely a path that I needed to choose,” says Perkatis.
“There’s a bit of banter between the boys when I pull out a book and start reading it but they all know it’s for the good and I’m sure most of the boys have that in the back of their mind as something they want to do in the future.”
On the end of banter or not, Yianni Perkatis knows he is securing his future as one of many proactive footballers as well as fans who are reaping the rewards.
Source : Football Federation Australia