Mon | Jan 21, 2019

Alex Marshall right to stay in school

Published:Saturday | February 6, 2016 | 12:00 AM


Though I am a devout fan of talented schoolboy footballer Alex Marshall, I am disturbed by suggestions from some quarters that he abandon formal education altogether in pursuit of a career as a professional footballer.

There can be no doubt that Mr Marshall is an exceptional talent, whose impressive skill set suggests that he may one day achieve extraordinary success in the world of professional football. In a perfect world, this transition would be seamless and inevitable. However, if experience teaches us anything, it is that life is sometimes unfair and always unpredictable.

As such, supreme talent does not always translate into professional success. This remains true even when such talent is guided by the best of intentions and nourished by application and self-discipline.

Life teaches us also that adversities, such as injuries, illnesses, accidents, trauma, misfortune, personal and family tragedies, etc. perpetually stalk us all. They have the ability to strike anyone, anywhere, anytime. And when they do, they have the potential to decimate our finances, challenge our hopes, dreams and aspirations, destroy our families, and stretch our will to the brink.

A wise man knows this and, therefore, while he always strives for the best, he also simultaneously plans for the worst. This is precisely why Alex must turn a deaf ear to those encouraging him to put all his eggs into the basket of professional football.



While a formal education (academic, vocational or otherwise) cannot inoculate him against every possible adverse eventuality he could encounter, it does provide him the best possible insurance policy against unemployment, underemployment and poverty in the event that things do not go according to plan with his professional career.

Second, it must be noted that the career of the elite athlete is very short. In fact, most peak in their mid-20s and end their professional careers 10 years later in their mid-30s, which, ironically, is the age at which most other professionals are just getting started in their respective careers.

At this age, the elite athlete still has the majority of his life (statistically 40 to 50 years) ahead of him. Even if he is blessed by then with unlimited financial and material resources, he still needs another substantive career or skill set to add value and meaning to his existence and to ensure that he remains active, functional and valuable to the society long after his playing days are over. A solid formal education makes that transition easier than would otherwise be the case.

Rather than making irrational decisions based on hype, I really do hope that Alex and his family think carefully about his long-term future, and ultimately, act in his long-term best interest. Good luck to him as he embarks on this exciting journey.