In the early days of the sport, soccer was seen as a means of entertainment rather than an actual career. As the sport’s popularity grew, with individual talents getting worldwide recognition, having a career in the sport slowly became appealing.
In today’s world of soccer, the level of competition to play the sport at a professional level has increased tremendously. As a result, it’s common to see youngsters applying to soccer academies and soccer colleges to have a career in the sport.
To achieve this, several requirements have to be met. Even at the end of the youth academy and college soccer programs, players will require an extraordinary amount of talent and luck to scale through and be chosen to become professional soccer players.
Although the sport has had its fair share of geniuses, these players soon begin to experience diminishing playing performance because of the game’s intensity. As a result, stakeholders are looking to catch young soccer talents to maximize the entire length of their playing lifespan fully.
On this note, the article closely examines the age requirement for players to start playing soccer. It also gives insights into the process needed to have a career as a professional soccer player.
How long do you need to be a soccer player?
The average career length of soccer players is between 8 to 20 years. It is higher for players who get selected for a professional contract. A lot depends on when the player was signed to play professionally and how long they can physically and mentally play in the sport.
With an average retirement age of 35 years, there’s no definite number on the length of a professional soccer career. For instance, a player like Roberto Carlos got signed professionally in 1992 and fully hung his cleats in 2015. Professionally, not counting his youth and amateur playing days, he had a career length of 23 years.
Being a soccer player is the first step to making a career out of the sport. Unlike in the past, young talents are enrolled in soccer academies, play high school soccer, or attend soccer colleges.
Minus the level of competitiveness and playing intensity, a major difference between youth/amateur soccer players and professional soccer players is that the former doesn’t get paid. It is only when a player is given a contract to play soccer as a career, professionally, that he/she is entitled to a salary.
Typically, high-performance academies accept aspiring soccer players from ages U12 to U18. However, certain soccer academies catch them younger and start with U9 teams.
In the US, for instance, a renowned soccer academy, The Santa Barbara SC MLS Academy, has players with ages ranging from U6 to U18. This means if you intend to become a professional soccer player, you should be looking to get a contract when you’re 16 to 23 years of age.
Even the sport’s highest governing body, FIFA, recognizes these ages professionally. It organizes tournaments such as the U-17, U-20, and Olympic soccer for U-23 soccer players.
To increase your chances of getting a contract, you have to have had some years of training, experience, and recommendation from a reputable soccer academy or college.
To stand out for a professor contract, it’s best to start early. For example, most successful professional soccer players started early before getting a professional contract.
English international Harry Kane started early at the age of six. He played for a local club called Ridgeway Rovers. His was not a fairytale journey initially, but we can attribute his later success in the sport to the early exposure he had.
The Portuguese star, Cristiano Ronaldo, is another example of a professional soccer player who started early. At age seven, he played for Andorinha, a Portuguese club in Madeira.
Why is it important to start early? On average, professional soccer players end their careers between the ages of 33 to 37 years. Therefore, to fully maximize players’ talent, scouts and soccer coaches are looking for young players who can have a long-playing professional career.
In today’s soccer, there are a lot of financial and developmental investments in players. As a result, club owners and stakeholders are looking for the best return on investment. This is why there’s a current trend to discover soccer talents early.
For instance, 14-year old Maximo Carrizo signed a professional soccer contract to play for New York City FC in the MLS. At the time of the signing, this made him the youngest player to be given a professional soccer contract in the MLS.
Barring any unforeseeable injury in the future, he’s forecasted to have a long professional soccer career than a player starting at 23 years.
Conversely, there have been professional soccer players who got signed late and still went on to become part of the game’s finest. However, statistics show that this is more of an exception than the rule.
In today’s soccer, at age 23, your chances of getting a professional contract is low. Point to note; it’s at its lowest, not an outright impossibility.
Becoming a professional soccer player
Most young soccer fans dream of becoming professional soccer players. Astonishingly, a majority of these will never actualize their dreams for several reasons.
Unlike in the past when a career as a soccer player was laughable, it is one of the most lucrative careers in the world today. For many young soccer players, getting into a soccer academy is a promising start to achieving their dreams.
However, every year, many of these youngsters either fail to get a professional contract or get tired and discouraged and then choose a different career path.
Here are some proven tips on excelling at the soccer academies or colleges and getting offered a professional contract.
How exceptional is your soccer talent?
Most youth soccer players are not honest with themselves, creating a false image of their talents. As a result, just like in college soccer, only a small fraction of players make it out of the soccer academy with a contract.
The level of competition at the academies makes it hard for mediocre talents to scale through. If you are looking to play the sport professionally, then ensure you’re one of the best in the academy.
Practice, practice, and more practice
Even professional soccer players do not relent in training, let alone younger players looking for a seat at their table. The more practice you do, the better you improve your playing performance and stamina.
While you must thrive on being an all-round player, find a unique ability that can make you stand out. This unique ability can only be honed from continuous practice.
Do you want to be a prolific goalscorer like Robert Lewandowski, or have the natural dribbling talent of Lionel Messi, or maintain consistency in performance like Cristiano Ronaldo? It all boils down to constant practicing.
As you journey into becoming a professional soccer player, you have to be mentally strong to handle the pressures of the game. As an intense sport, injuries are bound to occur.
You also have to deal with competing for playing times and sometimes struggle with anxieties that could cause a reduction in your performance. It happens to the best players in the sport too, so you don’t need to deal with it alone.
There are sports psychologists, sometimes provided by the academy, to speak to. You have to be mentally prepared for whatever comes your way.
Eat healthy and stay fit
As a soccer player, your level of performance on the pitch directly relates to what you feed your body. So, now more than ever, soccer players are hiring personal nutritionists and using the services of those hired by clubs to draw out and maintain healthy diets.
As a sport with high energy consumption, eating energy-rich foods and drinking the right quantity of water helps keep the body active throughout the soccer season. However, these energy-rich foods can also cause the player to become overweight.
Sticking to a good exercise routine and diet can go a long way to improving your game and preparing you for a professional contract.
Club connections and talent scouts
With all the above tips strictly followed, you’ll still need to get noticed by professional clubs. Sometimes players lose opportunities to transit professionally because they may be in academies or colleges that do not have the necessary connections.
Most academies or soccer colleges have affiliations with soccer clubs. Still, it’s hard to get noticed if there’s no intentionality about pushing and showcasing their young talents.
Always be available when the academy organizes trials. Always give your best as though the owner of your favorite soccer club is watching. You cannot tell when a talent scout is watching and looking for new talent.
One of the ways of being open to opportunities is to network as much as possible. Have a working relationship with your coach and staff. Give your best and believe someone out there wants your talents.
Are you willing to relocate?
This is the last tip to consider when preparing for a professional contract. The success of the entire process may lie in this.
Talent scouts come from far and near looking for talents for local, national, and international clubs. One of the first things the scout would like to know is your willingness to relocate.
Although it’s been your life-long dream to play soccer professionally, it doesn’t mean you should always jump at every opportunity. Instead, understand what you need for yourself as a professional soccer player and then accept contracts that put you on the right track.
For instance, you may have considered playing for a Spanish club overseas and received an Italian club offer. Some of the things you should consider include language differences, the environment, the club’s reputation, ease of transfers, available opportunities to make it into a Spanish club, etc.
You may not get all the answers immediately. Still, to attain success as a professional soccer player, your foundation plays a whole lot. There have been many talented soccer players who fell off the radar because they got a bad professional soccer deal.
Depending on what you want to achieve by playing soccer, the lifespan of your career will vary. However, with the number of soccer academies and colleges springing up, there is high competition to make it into the professional level.
Starting at an early age gives the advantage of experience. You’re exposed to professional coaches and staff to help develop your talent. It also exposes you to scouts and the possibility of being selected to play in some of the sport’s top club youth teams.
Playing professionally takes a lot of dedication, talent, resilience, and intelligent choices. You have to make a conscious determination always to give your best at every game, irrespective of who is watching.
Although the percentage of players who make it into the professional level may be small, as long as you keep yourself in the top 3% at the academy and soccer colleges, it’s only a matter of time before you have your first professional soccer contract in front of you.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!