Why there has been an upsurge in footballers applying to Open University

Footballers across the country have sought to use the free time imposed on them during the global Covid-19 pandemic shutdown to broaden their educational horizons.

Chris Higgins is a defender at East Fife and personal development officer at PFA Scotland. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

Footballers across the country have sought to use the free time imposed on them during the global Covid-19 pandemic shutdown to broaden their educational horizons.

PFA Scotland have had a huge upsurge in members contacting them to be directed to Open University courses that might be appropriate. And the body’s personal development officer, Chris Higgins, believes going down this route must be encouraged with so many players facing a precarious future owing to the possibility that football could remain in hiatus until the autumn.

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“We are living in very uncertain times,” said Higgins, currently with East Fife. “No one knows the impact coronavirus is going to have on football and on the world. It is having a huge effect on all aspects of life and we have been feeling that.

“Since lockdown began I must have had about 50 players phone me and say ‘Chris, you need to help me – I am bored out of my nut here.’ A lot of them don’t have any idea what they want to do but that is fine, it is the commitment to try and find something new that counts. We get that and we can start putting loads of different ideas to them, have conversations to see what they like and what areas they are strong in.”

Higgins uses the example of Brian Easton at Hamilton Accies, inset, as a player who is a model for others who are looking to enhance their skill sets. And the defender believes all players can find a course that will fit their interests, and capabilities.

“Brian is a guy who played regularly in the Premiership, who has played at a high level down in England with Burnley, who is well on his way to completing a business degree. So they will look at him and think, ‘well if he is doing it then I should be too’,” said the 34-year-old.

“Open University courses are great for professional sportsmen and women because they are such a flexible way to learn. I did a distance degree myself a few years back, in athlete development, and loved it, loved the whole process of picking up new skills at my own pace. I’m still playing my football and I am still learning as I go now, I take Spanish lessons which are really popular with a lot of players.

“But listen; there are a whole load of different paths available. We help them learn a trade, qualify to become a personal trainer or prepare to join the police. Others will want to follow routes inside the game and again that is fine. We have put a lot of players through the applied football management course at Napier University.

“The overall message is get yourself involved now, do the study or training whenever you are able and build yourself something which can help in later life. Set yourself up for the future. Because for the majority of players, you are going to need to find yourself a way to earn a living when you retire. Yes, some will make enough money not to have to work again but many will not.

“Plus it can be really enjoyable. Vincent Kompany did a degree, not because he needed it but because he thought it would be a valuable use of his time. And the funny thing is studies have shown it does actually lead to better sporting performance. It might not be for everyone, but we would urge all players to at least consider giving it a try. That is the key first step.”

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