Over the past six years, Australia’s professional football players have accessed over $1m of education funding to help subsidise their careers and development off the pitch.

While this represents a significant commitment to over 400 professional footballers, the true benefit of the financial assistance for players becomes apparent when exploring the diverse individual success stories.

Perth Glory’s Tando Velaphi is one such example. 

Having studied since 2014, Velaphi has managed to complement his professional football career with study in the area of sports management, which has provided balance and unlocked new opportunities to boost his performance on and off the pitch.

“[Study] has been a really good thing to balance my football. It’s all great and well training and [playing] games, but you need a bit of a life outside of football to balance things and keep your mind fresh,” Velaphi said.

A professional of 14 years who started his career in Perth, before moving to Melbourne, Wellington and Japan and then completing his career journey with a move back to hometown club Glory, Velaphi has studied consistently during the past seven years.

The 33-year-old goalkeeper is now enrolled in a Bachelor of Business majoring in Sports Management, but his interest in study commenced when he suffered an injury and quickly discovered he had little outside of his rehab to keep him motivated.

“I had a pretty serious injury when I was in Melbourne; I fractured my leg and that put me out of the game for about 9-10 months. During that time, you’re not training, you’re doing your rehab and you’ve got a lot of time to think. Sometimes that’s good – if you use that in a positive way, such as study – and sometimes that’s bad when you keep on fretting over your injury and when you’re going to get back.

“That’s when the penny dropped and that’s when I decided to do something outside of the game.

“It first started as TAFE, Cert 3 small business type course, but as I got a bit of confidence, I moved onto a University degree and it’s developed from there.”

Studying via an online course has provided flexibility and helped Velaphi juggle his demanding club football commitments. But Velaphi believes he gained the most benefit recently when undertaking an internship through the PFA’s ‘Beyond the 90’ work placement program with baseball club Perth Heat.

“With my degree I’m studying a lot of technical elements in the sports management field, so just to get that hands on experience was, first and foremost, the most important thing. You really get an insight into how the business of sport operates; in terms of sports marketing, logistics that happen behind the scenes, such as organising crowds and games and that sort of thing. That was the most valuable for me.

“During the time I was actually doing the program it was right in the midst of coronavirus so there were pretty fluid changes happening pretty consistently in terms of borders closing, and teams trying to get foreign players over [into Australia].

“The hands on experience is vital; getting a degree is fantastic and you learn a lot of the knowledge and kind of technical skills, but before you actually [get a job] you need to be able to implement them and know how to implement them.

“I think at University you are working for yourself, but you have a greater responsibility when you are working for an organisation, to meet deadlines so having that responsibility was a really good thing.”

Through study Velaphi has been able to ‘exercise his mind’ and find fulfilment outside of football and now at the age of 33 he recognises that there is a need to start to prepare for the inevitability of transitioning out of the professional game.

“If you have a bit of time off the park, I think it’s a great thing to be able to kind of exercise your mind and pursue other interests,” Velaphi said.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say to other players that it has to be study or some sort of formal education. But just doing something off the field and developing yourself personally outside the game I think it can give you that fulfillment outside of the pitch as well.

“I think just look at your things that motivate you and you’re interested and then reach out to the PFA because they can always point you in the right direction. They have the networks, the contacts and the resources to get you going.”

About Beyond the 90

Delivered by Infront Sports Consulting, Beyond the 90 provides measurable benefits for athletes. Over 100 organisations have hosted elite athletes, providing valuable work experience, skills, contacts and insight into a new job role or industry.  Many placements have assisted athletes to explore career interest areas before committing to study, or to establish key contacts for the future.  Some athletes have gained direct employment through the program, whilst others have developed critical skills in leadership, communication, teamwork, time management, organisation and problem solving.  Athletes have been able to enhance their career development, explore potential career paths, and create future employment prospects through work experience and on-the-job training.