During National Careers Week, we celebrate the Westfield Matildas who are forging careers on and off the pitch.
Recently, striker Caitlin Foord opened up on her experience of balancing university studies with professional football.
The 26-year-old is currently studying a Diploma in Nutrition at Torrens University Australia, with the entire course taken online. Foord is making the most of Professional Footballers Australia's Player Development Program and offered subsidy of the course through the PFA’s partner Torrens University.
The qualifications acquired from such a degree create a vast amount of options for Foord post-football. If she wishes to remain in the professional footballing scene, her degree would provide many opportunities, with professional nutritionists being highly sought after amongst sporting circles.
It’s been a new challenge for the Arsenal forward, juggling a professional footballer’s routine, university studies and fitting in any potential downtime. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and abhorrent English conditions have given Foord plenty of opportunities to knuckle down.
“I felt like lockdown helped with all that, with the UK weather being not as nice as Australia, you spend a lot of time indoors.” Foord told Matildas.com.au
The hard work off the field has translated on the field, with Foord having been prolific for Arsenal FC in the 2020-21 FA Women’s Super League season, finishing fourth in the goal-scoring charts with 10.
Taking time out to improve her education has proved beneficial for her footballing form, giving the forward an outlet away from football where she can express herself.
“I enjoyed the fact that I've got something to focus, something away from football that balances me out, something else to think about,”
“I've had a lot go on this year, it's been a good distraction.”
Luckily for Foord, her ex-Westfield W-League nemesis and now fellow Londoner Mackenzie Arnold has enrolled in the same Diploma of Nutrition course, with both girls providing a support network for each other during the process.
[Arnold] keeps me motivated and had me wanting to do it, we had support in each other and to do the experience together means more
"We've been able to help each other out with the two subjects that we have together."
"She enjoys one of them, I enjoy the other one, so it's good to help the other out with the subject that you're far more interested in because the other can sometimes be a bit of a drag."
For many students both in Australia and overseas, a major aspect of the university experience, being classroom discussion and study groups have been almost entirely removed due to a shift to online learning. Both players acknowledge just how important it is to have the constant interaction surrounding their subjects.
We help and bounce ideas off each other, we always check that we're on the right track
"We have both of our brains working together, which if you combine both Mackenzie and my brain, you actually equal about one normal brain."
For the girl from Wollongong, returning to regular studies has brought her back to a time when a footballing dream perhaps got in the way of realising her potential at school. It’s a story of many professional footballers, having an all-consuming passion for the game at a young age, with many finding their love for further education as they enter their peak or post career.
“In school I tried to get away with the bare minimum, I can’t say I really studied.”
“Really, the most challenging thing is to learn how to study again, it’s also about figuring out what is best for me.”
Foord intends to continue her academics and encourages any young aspiring footballer to consider the potential benefits of combining elite level sport with a high level education. However, unlike the rapid nature of professional football with many careers lasting a maximum of 12-15 years, choosing a career outside of the game is a decision needing a larger amount of patience.
"My advice would be just take your time with it, there's no rush. For me, I've done it when the time is right. I think that time will come, the scariest part is getting into it."
"It's nothing to be worried about, a lot of people will give you their support and many have been where you are."
Caitlin's final message about those looking to further their academic skills is simple:
If Macca [Mackenzie Arnold] and I can do it, anyone can do it!