Sports scholarships offer talented individuals the invaluable opportunity to combine the honing of skills in their desired sport with a full, often subsidised higher educational degree. Football scholarships have become particularly popular in recent times and are seen by some as a vital lifeline for players who have been released from youth contracts after sacrificing their full time education to play the game they love.
The origin of recruiting athletes to compete in return for the chance to learn comes from the late-19th century USA, largely due to an unprecedented growth in popularity of college sport. Increased awarding of scholarships throughout the 20th century was largely profit driven as many college teams and events would draw crowds worthy of professional sporting occasions.
Football scholarships in the USA are offered in great numbers by Division 1 and Division 2 colleges which tend to be of the larger variety and focus intensely on encouraging representation of the college through sports. In the UK it is commonplace for aspiring footballers to take time out of their basic schooling and make educational sacrifices for the sake of their youth football careers. Whether due to unpredictable setbacks including injury or termination of contracts, for the majority of players, this will be as far as their careers progress.
In the current job market it is clearer than ever that a degree or certificate of higher education is often fundamental to starting on a successful career. The stability, opportunity and well-roundedness offered by a football scholarship are what have made its appeal rise in recent times. However with approximately 400,000 male high school players in the US alone (as of 2011), not to mention the great interest from international prospective players wishing to break into the American system, the demand for football scholarships still vastly outweighs their supply.
A significant portion of the foreign interest in US scholarships comes from British applicants. Historically, scholarships have never been widely distributed by UK institutions other than those few universities and colleges which are formed with an inherent focus on sport and physical performance. These institutions are often Lottery-funded and double as training facilities for national sports teams. It is obvious then that many rejected youth footballers and career-minded players turn to the USA for their chance to focus on their football without the consequences of failure being so severe.
Some footballers in the UK are even combining full-time education with a professional career in an attempt to secure their future. Duncan Watmore is a 20 year-old professional footballer who, last season, made several starting and substitute appearances for the then top-flight Scottish club Hibernian F.C. alongside continuing to study for his Economics degree at an English University. This career-minded balancing act is undoubtedly very stressful for the young player who could benefit more from the well-managed mixture of football and academia that a scholarship offers but that is lacking from the UK educational system.
The virtually scientific approach used by many scholarship projects such as “Aptitude for soccer”, to fully develop the footballing potential of its applicants as well as preparing them for a promising career away from the pitch is what will surely see the requirement for scholarship places and investment, increase in the future.