A Qualitative Study on Young Male Football Talents’ Dual Careers
Balancing the Demands of Education and Training – A Qualitative Study on Young Male Football Talents’ Dual Careers. M. K. Christensena and J. K. Sørensenb a Institute of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark b Department of Public Health – Sport Science, Aarhus University Workshop: Negotiating Athlete Identity in Career Transitions Abstract: Today’s young semi-professional football players are expected to continue their education while honing their talents as footballers. This means they must balance the contradictory demands that come from coming from the fields of education and of elite sport. At the same time elite sportspeople in the top international sports are being placed under increasing pressure as a result of the performance optimization approaches that are now a fundamental part of competing at the national elite level, and which have resulted in a significant rise in the time such sporting assets spend on sport. Yet, attempting a professional career in football involves great mental and physical strains that profoundly affect the future lives of the young talents. The study presented in this paper explores how 15- to 19-year-old Danish football talents subjectively experience and describe the way they balance their relations with two central forces in their everyday lives that are often fraught with conflict. On the one hand there are interests, ambitions and demands in the field of elite sport, and on the other the choices and requirements necessary for maintaining an association with the field of education. Data for the study are gathered using a narrative and qualitative approach, including four focus group interviews with 25 footballers aged 15–19, followed by individual interviews with eight of the footballers. The analysis of data uses field-oriented social psychology and a systemic understanding of the individual as a social being who orients itself in its actions in relation to the surrounding world, as its theoretical base. The elite football culture has an almost magnetic attraction for the young footballers in the study. Even if the espoused value of a good set of academic qualifications does not entirely measure up to this, the insistence from the outside world on the importance of completing one’s education is manifest and associated with significant personal concerns, lower examinations results, stress, drop-out and mental breakdown. In so far as school makes no positive difference to their career opportunities as footballers, school and other potential regions in the players’ life space have nowhere near the same socializing significance as the basic underlying assumption in the football culture: 100 percent dedication. In this way talented footballers can be said to conduct an early closure of identity during their youth, which can have consequences for their experience of crisis in the process of creating their identity.