Maria Farrugia, a professional footballer with Durham FC and MCS ambassador, on how student-athletes can be best supported on their road to success
Maria Farrugia first started playing football at age four. With her eyes always set on following the journey as far as it could take her, she attended secondary school at the National Sports School before moving to Sunderland in the UK, where she played professionally for three years.
At the start of last season, she moved to Durham FC, where she currently plies her trade.
Still only 22 years old, Farrugia’s career has already seen a number of high points. She has played for the Malta national team in European Championship and World Cup qualifying games, as well as being part of club teams that achieved victories over Liverpool – with Sunderland, and Manchester United – at Durham.
“My ambition is to play in the Super League with one of the best teams in England,” she says of her hopes for the future.
But through it all, Farrugia never lost sight of her academic endeavours, attending university while playing with Sunderland and graduating with a BSc in Sports and Exercise Science.
“Finding balance isn’t easy,” she admits. “You need support from your parents and teachers, who are always behind you and understand what you’re going through as a student-athlete.”
Her own experience of these challenges is part of the reason Farrugia decided to become an ambassador for the Mediterranean College of Sport, where the elements needed to support a dual-career pathway are embedded into every facet of the school.
“It was an honour to become an ambassador for MCS because I believe it’s a project that will be extremely helpful to student-athletes looking to develop their talents both in school and in sports,” she says. “When you’re a student-athlete, as I was, it’s important to have support on both the academic and sporting fronts.”
While the right support is critical, Farrugia says student-athletes also need a healthy dose of self-discipline if they are to reach their maximum potential. Eating right, getting enough sleep and recovering well are crucial to success, she says.
Farrugia adds that, with the pressures young student-athletes have to deal with often coming from many directions simultaneously, good coordination between the different entities with a stake in their development is crucial.
“It’s very important that the school, club and national team are all pulling the same rope,” she says. “The goal should always be to help the player feel comfortable—communication is very important.”
The education system, according to Farrugia, has a central role to play in helping student-athletes perform well in both their academic and sporting lives, managing the workload of their studies and training while keeping their heads above water.
In this regard, she feels there is still a lot of room for improvement. “I think schools in general can do more to understand the challenges student-athletes are going through and to facilitate them in keeping up with these challenges,” she says.
Similarly, Farrugia believes, the attitude parents take towards their children’s dual career, and the stresses it brings with it, can have a significant impact on the young athlete’s development.
“The way they give encouragement, remain positive, and understand them in both the highs and the lows can make all the difference.”
The Mediterranean College of Sport is set to be one of the most pioneering educational and sporting facilities in the Maltese islands, aiming to develop future athletes of international calibre. The co-educational college is set to open its doors to students in September 2024 and will be housed adjacent to St Aloysius College in Birkirkara. For further information please send an email to email@example.com .