“More needs to be done to encourage youth footballers” – former National player

By Jemima Holmes

After seeing our youth players shine at the junior level, too many times thereafter, it is as though they have ‘fallen off the map’. Years after the fact, we find ourselves asking: “Where have these players gone?” or, “What could have happened to them?”
The reality of the situation is that circumstances can make or break an individual; more often than not, forcing an individual into a corner and causing them to forget their goals and aspirations in a desperate struggle for survival. While this is a common occurrence in any sport, the issue is quite prevalent in the world of Guyanese football.
This publication sat with a former youth player who chose to remain anonymous as he detailed the circumstances that arise when a player heads into adulthood and tries to balance life between playing the sport and living without support.
“These players are turning to drugs, doing small jobs, and they can’t really focus on playing the football so much,” he explained.
Delving deeper into the issue, this player explained that many footballers are turning to the construction industry to make ends meet. While this is an honest job and is preferred over turning to a life of crime, it can have deleterious effects on a player. Those effects were detailed to this publication.
“Doing things like construction in boiling sun all day, and then having to go to training right after, that’s tough,” he stated.
While he explained the gravity of the issues that are keeping younger players away from the game, he was careful to highlight a few alternatives which, in his eyes, can put a player on the path to recovery.
“The only way out of this issue is stability in terms of financial and emotional for players. ‘Cause nothing else can help, you can’t tell players what to do unless you’re willing to feed them. They need someone that can help them with nutrition, transportation, those simple things,” he detailed.
Asked if this is an issue that the Guyana Football Federation (GFF) or the Government can rectify, the former youth player answered in the negative. In fact, he had a different alternative to present.
“I don’t think there’s much that the GFF can do. I think private sector should be the ones to come on board and help,” he said. Probed to further explain how private sector and corporate Guyana can lend a hand to assist football, he suggested that the solution lies in borrowing a trick or two from arguably Guyana’s most successful sport, cricket.
“Cricket has a programme where players have contracts, academy contracts. Contracted players earn at least $60,000 just to train. Think about if football had these things. A lot of talent is being drained because they don’t have any support. If we can have a similar programme as cricket, that would be great for Guyana’s football,” he advanced.
Needless to say, having to choose between earning a livelihood and being dedicated to the sport you love is a difficult position to be in; and, more often than not, football does not win in such a situation. As this publication’s source explained, the most talented players are usually the ones who turn away from the sport.
Given this fact, one can only wonder where the level of Guyanese football would have been if the players, from a very young age, had been encouraged to stick with the sport and had been given the incentive to so do.
The issue of talented sportsmen and women having to abandon the sport that they love in order to earn a living is so common in the Guyanese sporting arena that it has been raised by other sporting associations and bodies time and time again.
Another solution to this problem is the promulgation of a National Sports Policy which would pave the way for Guyanese athletes to focus on their various sporting disciplines. Still in its draft stage, this policy is said to be near completion, and athletes are eagerly awaiting its publication.
That alone will tell what relief this can bring to football and the wider sport arena.