Dual careers in women’s football: The FA’s pledge on education
England internationals Lucy Bronze and Rachel Daly (left and centre) studied in the US, while Lauren Hemp is currently studying as part of the Dual Careers scheme in the UK

England international, Chelsea forward and law student.

When she is not leading the line for her country or helping the Blues top the Women’s Super League, Bethany England has got her head stuck in the books.

“Law is something I’ve always been interested in growing up. I used to watch CSI, Criminal Minds and Law and Order with my mum,” England told BBC Sport.

“It’s nice to have another interest than sport. I love football – I live and breathe football – but you can’t let it overtake your life to the extreme as what it can do.

“It’s something different for my mind to get going on.”

The Football Association hopes more women will join England, as they formally introduce a “commitment” to ensure every club in the WSL and Women’s Championship has access to higher education for their players.

While the majority of players will pay for their education, scholarships are available and the Professional Footballers’ Association can provide grants.

It is the latest development from the FA which it hopes will stop young English talent being lured to the United States to get a degree through the college system.

“We want every club to have the right links so that the players can choose a number of options where they can engage in learning that interests them,” Baroness Sue Campbell, the Football Association’s director of women’s football, told BBC Sport.

“We want to be seen to not just support [education], but to encourage it.”

‘It’s going to be difficult to leave’

England internationals Lucy Bronze (left), Alessia Russo (centre) and Rachel Daly (right) have all studied in the United States

England full-back Lucy Bronze, named the Fifa best women’s player in 2020, is one of a number of senior players who went to the United States to study alongside playing early in their careers.

More recently, Manchester United forward Alessia Russo and Arsenal defender Lotte Wubben-Moy studied in North Carolina before returning to the UK during the coronavirus pandemic.

But Manchester City goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, who is on loan at American side OL Reign, said “it’s going to be very difficult” for young English players to want to leave the WSL now because of the growing professionalism of the league and the opportunities for education.

“If you would have asked some of these girls maybe four or five years ago whether they felt they would miss out on anything if they went to the States, they’d probably say ‘no’,” Bardsley told BBC Sport.

“If you ask people now they would definitely say ‘yes’. Having the option to have an education would be a great part of the toolkit to keep players involved in the WSL. It would just be the icing on the cake.”

“I don’t want to stop people going [to the US] for cultural reasons or different experiences, but I want them to look and see that they can get just as good an opportunity here as they would get anywhere else,” Baroness Campbell said.

“When [players] get to the end of their careers, we want them to have an alternative. We want them to have the best possible chance to do well in life – not just well in football.”

‘Shaped the person I am today’

Chelsea striker Bethany England is studying law part-time while playing football professionally

But can education have a direct impact on performance too?

Baroness Campbell said having something to “stimulate players’ minds” is really important and breaks up the “monotony” of training, sleeping and eating.

“When you’re in a football game, you’re making decisions all the time,” she said. “If your brain is sitting vacant, if you like, for large parts of the day, that isn’t necessarily a good thing.

“For mental health and wellbeing it’s a really good thing. There are stresses of playing high-performance sport. To have something different to distract you, to engage you, and to have an interest in, is really important.”

Bardsley said studying in California “really shaped the person I am today”, while England admitted she has developed an “attention to detail”.

“We have to switch on in meetings and listen to details on set-pieces, tactics and information on opposition players. That’s just the same as having to recite a case, what year it happened and what actually went on in the judgement,” England said.

“By being in education I have learned I have a mad attention to detail. I can remember little quirky things that help me with my work as well as remembering tactics on the pitch.

“Everyone learns differently. You figure out which method for you is the best. I can relate that to the pitch as well.”

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