For any footballer, finding balance can be challenging.  With a huge amount of time committed to training, rest and recovery, the hours and minutes in a day are very quickly soaked up. Little time is left to share with friends, family or to enjoy other important pursuits, such as education.

But more often than not, establishing equilibrium can be the key to a long and successful football career and, as such, pursuing a healthy balance remains an important focus for modern-day players.

For 17-year-old Perth Glory midfielder Jacob Italiano, promisingly, he feels he may have found a balance.

Through his time at the FFA Centre of Excellence, Italiano learned important habits which have helped him to juggle the inevitable change that accompanies professional football. Italiano has managed to find time outside of the game to complete his Year 12 studies – despite disruption.

In 2016, as a 14-year-old, Italiano moved from his family home in Perth to Canberra as part of that year’s crop of talented young Australian footballers.

Placed in a homestay situation was challenging, but Italiano believes it has helped him to form positive behaviours. He ate and slept well and, importantly, made time to pursue his studies; schooling was a mandatory part of the COE Player Development program.

Despite a disrupted period during the closure of the Centre of Excellence in August last year, Italiano recently finished his studies via correspondence; no mean feat given he’d also secured a professional contract with Perth Glory. 

“The first few months were a bit challenging,” Italiano reflects on his move to Canberra two years ago.

“I started to ask myself ‘did I make the right decision?’ and all the doubt comes into play. It was difficult but at the same time it was really fun. It’s taught me a lot.”

Italiano was placed in a homestay situation with now Sydney FC prodigy Joel King. While it took a while to adjust, Italiano believes the program and the lifestyle set him up to tackle the challenges associated with a professional career.

“Going into a new family, things are different and you need to get used to the new rules and a new way of living. Obviously it helped having one of the other boys there who was in the same boat as me. Once I got past that [initial] phase, I really started to enjoy it.”

“I started to get to know the boys more and being in and around them every day it just started to feel like paradise; playing football every day. The first couple of months, getting to know Joel, we ended up loving it, we ended up feeding off each other in terms of school and football.

“That helped me feel a lot better and helped balance school and football a lot more than what was happening in Perth, so that made me feel a lot more comfortable as well.

“Back in Perth I probably didn’t train as regularly as I did in Canberra, but it was a lot more of a struggle balancing school with training every day and making sure that your performances are at a high standard while dealing with the stress of school.

“So going [to the CoE] where it was all thought through really well and managed really well, I think it really helped me in terms of balancing everything.”

When the Centre of Excellence closed down, Italiano had to uproot his life and return to Perth.

Jackson Kupke, the FFA’s Player Development Manager, had managed the CoE program and in conjunction with partner school, Lake Ginninderra College, put in place a distance education model in order for Italiano and other outgoing CoE players to complete their Year 12 studies by correspondence.

“This group was the first cycle of players to benefit from this distance education program,” Kupke said. “Jacobwas mature for his age. We could see from the first camp we held that he had the potential to be leader, he was clearly brought up to have good values and was respectful. So we had to, like all of the players, make sure he developed good behaviours.”

In a phase of limbo, Italiano secured a contract with Glory.

“It was obviously really good to get a gig with Glory and they were really helpful to me, to take me on at that time. So that was really good of them and I enjoyed moving back in with my family as I obviously missed them when I was over in Canberra.”

“I struggled a little bit for the first few months of the online schooling, but the key was just communicating with the teachers, communicating well with my support staff at FFA and Lake Ginninderra College who were still helping us and that helped with my time management.”

“I studied standard English and Maths courses, but one of the subjects I started to study in the last few years was Exercise Science. I learned a lot through that subject, so if football doesn’t work out for me, I would follow on with studying that. I think that would probably be the thing that I was most interested in studying and obviously that would help with my football as well and getting to know myself and how my body works as an athlete.”

When Italiano finally finished his Year 12 studies, he said it had been a great relief.

“I think we went out as a family for dinner [to celebrate the completion of his studies], nothing special. It was a nice relief to have that over with and for a bit and then I think about University in the next couple of years.”

While Italiano was humble about his achievement, given the disruption to his education following the closure of the CoE, his achievement remains an example for other professionals to create wholesome careers on and off the pitch.

For more more Information on how the PFA supports players via the PFA Player Development Program click here.