Dual career paths and long-term athlete development
As a former player of the Malta national football team who is currently the Deputy Chairperson and a board member of MFA’s Inħobb il-Futbol Foundation, Michael Galea knows a thing or two about pursuing a dual career path, something the Mediterranean College of Sport will be preparing its students for.
“There are three essential qualities that anyone pursuing a dual career path must possess: focus, excellent organisational skills and, above all, exceptional time management abilities,” explains Galea. “In my experience, anyone wanting to play sport at the highest levels while also developing and progressing academically or in the workplace must master all three.”
While balancing two demanding careers is not for the faint of heart, Galea believes that the benefits of pursuing a dual career path far outweigh the challenges. “Discipline, teamwork, character formation, and embracing a healthy lifestyle are just some of the benefits that come to mind based on my experience, and they all last much longer than an athlete’s sporting career,” he claims.
Since many sporting careers require the athlete to start developing their talent at an early age, parents are an integral part of the process. “Parental support is essential but can also result in the downfall of talented youngsters if not managed properly,” says Galea. “The secret is to strike a balance, which varies from child to child. The supporting infrastructure consisting of coaches, teachers, clubs and workplaces, is also critical in providing parents with the required guidance.”
Another balance which is not easy to strike is finding the right age for a child to start specialising in a sport. “I definitely favour delaying specialisation as long as possible. The most important thing for young children is to get as much exposure to sports as possible,” says Galea. Although the risk of burnout and of overuse injuries is associated with early sports specialisation, Galea believes that these challenges are part of every athlete’s career. “These risks can never be completely obliterated,” he remarks. “It is therefore essential that athletes are provided with the appropriate tools, be they emotional, physical, or mental, to overcome any difficult patches and to emerge even stronger.”
Resilience, or a lack thereof, is one of the reasons Galea feels Malta lags behind other countries when it comes to excellence in sport. “As a Southern Mediterranean country, we come from a culture that is quite laid back, and we also tend to grow in tight-knit families, meaning that any deviations from that require a high degree of discipline, effort and drive to succeed,” he says. “There are exceptions of course, however, generally speaking, we tend to give up easily. I also feel that we still lack a consistent long-term vision at a national level, including the appropriate financial investment in the development of young athletes, even though some progress has been made.”
Some feel that the football academies in Malta are too focussed on results and on winning at all costs, sometimes to the detriment of the enjoyment of the game. “We need to establish appropriate development paths which do not place undue pressures on the kids. Instead, we should encourage children to experience myriad different opportunities for as long a time as possible, to develop and mature and, above all, to enjoy playing,” Galea says.
Creating lasting change in our sporting culture can feel like an insurmountable task, but Galea believes the best place to start is with coach education. “Coaches are ideally positioned to influence our young athletes, and the impact they can have is undeniable and lasting,” concludes Galea. “This places a bigger onus on them and on all those involved in working with our youths as we seek to develop tomorrow’s children into better people and stronger athletes.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org .