How can sports help boost the employability of young people and empower them? Find out through the stories of Zak and Moses, two Erasmus+ participants and now signed footballers.
Sports play a huge role in the world of health and fitness, but many overlook how it can empower young people and boost their employability, such as playing professional football. For those who dream of achieving this career, it can too often come hurtling down to a crash.
This is what Zak Guerfi and Moses Duckrell faced when they became released from their respective UK clubs, Stevenage and Barnet, soon after completing their two-year Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence (ASE) courses.
League Football Education (LFE) gave them a second chance to reach their dreams with their Erasmus+ funded project, ‘Enhancing ASE, Progression, Personal Development and Recent Graduate Employment’. Their project offers ASE graduates three-month placements in Sweden and Spain to continue developing their skills in a different country.
Zak and Moses' stories
“After getting released, I was struggling in non-league football,” explains Zak. “LFE contacted me through my regional officer, saying there was a placement coming up in February 2018 and wanted to know if I would like to go.”
Moses first heard of the project in a similar way:
“I received an email from LFE, which explained about an Erasmus+ placement in Sweden for ex-apprentice footballers. I thought I might as well sign up, I had nothing to lose.”
While Zak spent his placement with Bodens BK, a fourth-tier Swedish club, Moses trained with fifth-tier club, BK Sport. During their three-month placements, they were able to continue their football development as well as learning other valuable skills.
“At the heart of it, there’s always a football programme so the partners that we work with are football clubs,” explains Dan Jolley from LFE, project co-ordinator. “They will put together a training programme – physical, technical and tactical development - during the week and there’ll be a games programme usually at the weekend.
“They will also have a social and cultural programme implemented. It’s very much trying to integrate them into the communities they will go into.”
A chance to grow and develop
Zak says of the football training in Sweden:
"The culture of football is much more suited to the way I like to play – they pass it, they work hard and the main thing that stood out for me is that everyone is so humble and kind. In England, I’m used to hearing managers scream from the sideline, but it’s not like that at all here. Everyone’s really calm. The standard of football is really good, the standard of training is great and I feel I’ve already become a better player.”
Both Zak and Moses not only developed their skills in football, but learnt to overcome language and cultural barriers.
“I love the Swedish lifestyle," said Zak. "They’re so much more relaxed and everyone is really helpful.
“I really feel I’ve developed as a person. The biggest skill I’ve learnt is independence. At home, my mum would cook my meals and do my washing. Now, obviously, I have to do all that by myself. I live in my own apartment and plan my day better. I’ve also developed my communication skills because I’m mixing with people from different cultures and backgrounds. I’ve learnt how to talk to people and how to understand them.”
Moses agreed: “I really enjoyed it. I’m from London, which is a busy city. In Sweden I lived in a town called Eskilstuna. The way of life is calmer, there wasn’t traffic or noise pollution. I noticed the air is cleaner as well.
“I just loved the whole experience – so different to what I was used to. Sweden really became my first love.”
From released graduates to signed footballers
The placements gave Moses and Zak the opportunity to reflect on the qualities they developed over the three months. Moses said: “The setback of being released knocked my confidence and I doubted my ability and passion for football.
“Experiencing those three months in Sweden helped me to find confidence in myself and build character. I was also willing to adapt to their style of play. The encouragement I received from the coaches and the staff around the club was immense for me. I fell in love with football again, rekindling that flame and it helped me to propel my career forward.”
“After the placement, I had the opportunity to try out with Livingston FC, a top Scottish football team, and I agreed to a two-year pro-deal with them. That’s an opportunity I definitely wouldn’t have found if I had stayed in the UK."
“Going to Sweden and getting my name out there attracted attention that I also wouldn’t normally have gained. It helped me find another team out here after my time in Scotland. I’m actually in Sweden right now, playing football for Friska Viljor FC.”
Zak also found similar success after his placement, explaining: “When I was released, I honestly thought my football career would come to a dead end. It’s really tough dropping down to a non-league club in England, I was ready to quit.
“Coming out here to Sweden has completely rejuvenated me. I’ve now earned a professional contract with Bodens BK. I’ve agreed to a two-year contract with them, so I’m going to continue to live in Sweden - that shows how much I liked it out here.”
Through the work of LFE, they have used Erasmus+ funding to empower these young footballers. While they develop new training and techniques, they also embark on a journey of personal development – helping them learn soft skills, as well as reigniting their love for football.
The stories of these two footballers show how participants can reap the benefits of Erasmus+ participation - and they’re both keen to spread the word.
“My advice is, if you get the opportunity, do it straightaway,” Moses advised. “There are so many things you can learn from a placement and leaving your comfort zone. You gain so many different life experiences, such as learning a new culture and language in a different country.”
Zak agreed: “The best scenario is what happened to me. You get a contract and change your life, so you’re in a win-win situation.”
Youth Story written by Sarah Kearney from Erasmus+ UK National Agency.
Quotes and images: Zak Guerfi and Moses Duckrell
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