BY Dami Akintade & Guillaume Laberge

Freddy Boateng, 24, has been working towards a professional soccer contract since he was 16 years old. He and his father share a love of soccer, which has motivated him to pursue this goal.

“Since the age of six, it has always been my goal to become professional,” says Boateng as he changes for his training session with a personal trainer.

Portrait of Freddy Boateng

A portrait of Freddy Boateng on the field. Photo by Dami Akintade.

Boateng says that playing soccer for a university team was not the best option for him.

“I felt very off. I had to take student loans, and I didn’t feel like taking it, and at the same time I didn’t have a scholarship,” Boateng says.

He had planned to enroll in a two-year sports management degree at the University of Quebec in Trois-Rivières, but after the first semester, he took a break to play professionally for eight months in Australia. He continued his education while playing, enrolling in two online courses, but due to the 14-hour time difference in Australia, he found it challenging.

A soccer player kicking a ball indoors

A soccer player is about to kick a ball. Photo by Dami Akintade.

“In life, you have to make sacrifices,” says Boateng. “Football and school schedules can intertwine, but you always have to find a way to work it out. In my case, it’s getting up very early, being motivated, and making sure to talk to my teachers.”

However, there are several organizations and programs that help student-athletes in Quebec succeed in their studies while realizing their dream of going pro.

With now two basketball teams in the city, what does that mean to young players? Should they aim to go pro, or pursue school– and how to balance both? Video by Guillaume Laberge.

Alliance Sport-Études is a network of 47 colleges and nine universities that work with regional sports organizations. Its goal is to provide educational services suited for gifted athletes who are pursuing post-secondary education. It has helped more than 1,400 student-athletes pursue their career goals as professionals.

“The idea is to help these athletes develop interests, develop their careers, and carry it out for as long as possible,” says Samuel Bélanger-Marceau, the Alliance Sport-Études’ global advisor for student-athlete development. “We try to create a kind of consistency with clear educational and sporting objectives, so the athlete remains motivated in both directions of his life.”

An indoor soccer game

A group of soccer players play a game on an indoor soccer field. Photo by Dami Akintade.

The Quebec Soccer Federation (SQF) is in charge of finding players with great potential and providing young athletes with additional opportunities to advance and be noticed. They are also in charge of Quebec’s Premier Soccer League.

(SQF), said this concerning the program: “To be part of this program and stay in it, you have to have a minimum of 75 percent. If this is not the case, it is difficult to keep them,” says Philippe Eullaffroy, performance manager at the Quebec Soccer Federation (SQF). “It is critical for student-athletes to continue to be efficient at school and to ask for help in order to maintain this minimum grade.”

The SQF consists of two institutions: the CF Montreal Academy for men and the Female Excellence Program, a brand-new initiative developed by the federation for women. Some of the people who have gone on to sign professional contracts include Ismael Koné, Chrisnovic N’Sa, Diyaeddine Abzi, and Mohamed Farsi.

A list of soccer players from Quebec playing professionally. Timeline by Dami Akintade.

“If I am right, over 60 players from the program have broken into the major leagues,” says Eullaffroy.

Many of these athletes play in the Canadian Premier League (CPL) and are fighting to gain the attention of larger European teams.

“To play in the CPL is not that bad. It pays well, but at the same time, the goal is to go play in Europe for big teams to win big titles,” says Mohammed Aichour, a player at the Saint Laurent soccer club.

The unpredictability of a professional career is another difficulty. To stay in the sport for as long as possible, it is preferable to begin at a young age. These programs attract a lot of athletes between the ages of 14 and 19.

“A soccer career lasts on average nine to ten years, which means that I still have time,” says Boateng.

At the age of 24, he’s constantly training and even has a personal trainer to stay as fit as possible and play as long as he can.

Student-athletes who prioritize their studies may be under pressure to pursue professional careers from friends, family, and coaches. As they try to strike a balance between their own desires and other people’s expectations.

It’s very important that I finish school. I have thought of what my plan B would be, but for now, I am focusing on accomplishing my plan A.

“There are very few people who make it; that’s why we encourage them to continue their studies,” said Eullaffroy. “School remains important, so we must educate young players on the importance of school even if we are well aware that their pleasure and their spirit are turned towards soccer.”

In Quebec, there are several structures in place that enable athletes to pursue professional careers as well as to complete their education. It relieves the athletes from stress and enables them to train freely in preparation for a tryout or other objectives.

Freddy Boateng using a bike

Freddy Boateng on an air bike during a training session. Photo by Dami Akintade.

“It is very important that I finish school. My parents are always talking to me about it, so I have no choice, even if it takes longer. I have thought of what my plan B would be, but for now, I am focusing on accomplishing my plan A,” says Boateng.

Balancing athletics and academics, uncertainty about a professional career, and external pressure all contribute to this decision.

“There are more and more young people who want to try to make soccer their profession, which was not the case 15 years ago. If you have the opportunity to go play professionally or try out for a professional club, you have to take the opportunity because it won’t come ten times,” said Eullaffroy.

Main image by Dami Akintade.
Published April 11, 2023.