Leston Paul’s decision to give preference to pursuing a University degree may have been one which a number of our young outstanding footballers have chosen over the years, but his extraordinary ability and the heavy demand which was made on his natural talent required him to carefully contemplate the future before deciding on his next move. My emotions run high on this decision simply because the last 40 years of my life have been dedicated to assisting young players in making that said decision in order to build a solid foundation and balance, consisting of strong academics and superb sporting talent. Having said that, the decision was much more difficult for the former National U-17 and present U-20 captain, who had earlier led our teams in the World Youth Championships in Korea and Egypt respectively. He was targeted by T&T Pro League coaches and management to join them in their effort to emerge as champions of the annual tournament. The alleged intention of these persons will have been to pay the young man what he may have considered a reasonable wage for his services, to join the ranks of all those who felt that football would be their way of life.

And while the belief that sport is a way of life is accurate, one must remember that it is not the only option. The athletes who were able to create a balance between academics and physical development are presently reaping the benefits of their early decisions. Maybe that is why one must credit some of those who were able to shine in both areas and produce the type of image which would have encouraged today’s youth to follow suit. logoI can think of names like Dr Alvin Henderson, Ian Bain, Dr Trevor Leiba, Dexter Skeene, Neil Williams, Garnet Craig, Graeme, Christian and Scott Rodriguez, Veron Skinner, Alvin Thomas, Peter Lewis, Marlon Charles, David Nakhid, Shaka Hislop, Kendall Reyes, Garth Pollonais, Brian Haynes and his brother Dr Frank Haynes, Derek Arneaud, Andy Haynes, Avery John, Julius James, and hundreds of others, including my own sons, who have all gained from scholarships from Universities in the USA.

And these are only footballers. Think of those who have blossomed in sports like track and field, basketball and swimming, through scholarships to large Universities. The presence of the Pro League may have given another option to some, especially those who may have come from low income families, with only moderate educational talent, and some enthusiastic coaches whispering an attractive sum of money for their talent. No doubt, some parents may be receptive to these offers, especially with the economy being in a fluctuative mood and bringing up a family is a financial challenge. Today, the desire of the kids to accept scholarships is probably based upon the exposure they can get from living abroad and the historical success of those who have gone before them, hence the reason why they have not embraced the offers afforded them at home. The ball is now in the court of the universities and the importance which they must pay to the development of our sportsmen and women. For the past 30 years, I have been suggesting to the tertiary institutions a method which can help us to not only educate young people academically, but physically as well.

Why can’t the freshmen students not be made to participate in one physical education programme in their initial year, mandatorily? Surely, this could provide an eye opener for these youngsters to determine the value of that side of life. Secondly, why should the University system not prepare teams in the major sporting disciplines and enter them in the premier divisions in football, cricket, netball, basketball, track and field, swimming, and field hockey? In this way the students will be motivated to strike that balance and keep their eyes set on achieving their degrees, together with representing our national teams. Don’t mention no funding, because this will not be just for the sake of the students having more fun, but for their total development, including the competitive spirit which the US place on success on the field and in the classroom. Leston Paul has opened a door for others to follow. He now understands that there is life after football. Just look around and see how many of the youngsters who chose the way of sports alone and where they are presently. Editor’s note: Alvin Corneal is a former national footballer and cricketer. He was awarded the HummingBird Silver Medal in 2009.