Iker Álvarez and Paola Soldevila talk about how they combine professional football with their university studies
A total of 18 Villarreal CF professional players have completed or are currently studying at university. In the Submarine’s first team, the ‘cum laude’ footballer par excellence is Manu Trigueros, also known for having completed a degree in Primary Education with a specialisation in Physical Education. But he is closely followed by Ramon Terrats, who is studying Physical Activity and Sport Sciences.
On the other hand, in Villarreal B and the women’s first team, the other two professional teams of the yellow club, there are up to 16 university students or graduates. Mini Submarine goalkeeper Iker Álvarez, who is studying Business Administration and Management, and midfielder Paola Soldevila, who has already completed a degree in Physical Activity and Sports Science and a Masters in Sports Management, explain how they combine their studies with elite sport.
The main problem lies in managing their schedules correctly. “This is probably the most complicated thing, especially at the beginning. Maybe now, also as a result of experience, you are adapting and realising that there are things that don’t depend on you and you play down the importance of certain things, such as last minute changes in timetables or unforeseen events that happen, which at some point can stress you out because you’ve missed a class or an exam. It’s also true that since the team is in the professional division, becoming an elite athlete makes certain changes much easier, although not all of them,, explains Iker Álvarez.
Paola Soldevila agrees with both the problems and the facilities, stressing that “it’s complicated if you go to the university in person because sometimes you train in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon, but they give me facilities and adapt to those who compete at the elite level. You have to organise yourself very well and make the most of the time you spend at the university and if you have hours off you go to the library.”
Studying while travelling, a utopia
And when the weekend arrives, when commuting, some play parcheesi or watch films while others take the opportunity to study, trying to find a little concentration in such a small space as a bus, so it is always impossible to make progress on tasks.
“To be honest, sometimes it’s impossible for me and I go with my team-mates, because there’s a lot of commotion, because it’s uncomfortable to study there or simply because you don’t feel like it that day, although I have to admit that on some days I get that willpower to help me keep my concentration in the field. It’s difficult, sometimes impossible, but if you want to, you can do it”, confesses the Andorran goalkeeper, to which the Catalan player agrees: “I almost never study on the bus because I don’t cope well with it, I get distracted very easily and I try to go to the bus with my homework done, but when I have exams I try to put myself in the quiet zone and put on some music with my headphones.”
From match tension to study stress
Many fans think that professional football only involves physical effort, but the truth is that the stress, concentration and tension during matches are high and the mental effort is high, which can sap your strength to study when you return home.
For this, Álvarez has the solution: “I always try not to leave any homework for the day of the match. In the moments leading up to the match, I like to focus only on winning and know that this is my first priority. After the match, depending on what happens on the pitch, I don’t feel like it either, so I try to isolate that day a bit from my study routine”. For her part, Sara Monforte’s midielder opts to plan her routine in detail and beat procrastination: “When you get home, the only thing you want to do is switch off and rest your mind. I try to rest for a while and then get on with it. It’s lazy, but it’s the only solution. In the last few years, I have learned to manage my schedule. The best thing to do is to plan ahead. If you know you’re going to have a certain of number of hours free, you organise yourself and set daily goals.”
The importance of support from family
In the case of both footballers, the decision to continue studying after finishing secondary school was a personal one, but the support of the family added to it.
“From home, it was not a direct obligation. It was more of a suggestion with a final hint of obligation, although it must be said, they have never pressured me to finish it in a certain amount of time, they just wanted me to do it little by little and as I don’t need it at the moment, I will finish it. Although it has to be said, I had already planned to study for a degree,” says the goalkeeper, who agrees with Soldevila on this point. “It was a totally personal decision, but it’s true that my mother always tried to make the most of our time and not to give it up if I could combine it with football and, in recent years, my father has also been quite insistent on me continuing my studies. If they recommend it, it’s for your own good”, she added.
A plan post-football
When a professional athlete decides to begin their studies, they can see it as a professional outlet or simply as a way to educate themselves and disconnect from their daily activities. In the case of Iker Álvarez, the goalkeeper prefers not to think too much about it: “I don’t know, in the end, life takes many turns, and you don’t know what it’s going to bring you. I prefer not to think about it as a future outcome, as it’s something I don’t know if it will happen. The only thing I know right now is that it helps me to disconnect and that’s what I’ll keep. What the future holds, will tell me if I have to dedicate myself to it or if, along the way, I take up other things and go the other way. The only thing I know for sure is that when I finish my degree, I will continue studying.”
Paola Soldevila, on the other hand, has a clear objective and is training for it: “My expectations are to continue to be linked to the world of football because of the studies I have done. It depends on many factors, but my dream is to become a sports director. I study to have a job, although it also helps me to disconnect.”
The other Villarreal B players studying at university are Rodri Alonso (Business Administration and Management), Antonio Espigares (Nursing) and Marcos Sánchez (Psychology). For Villarreal Women, the players with university studies in progress or completed are Elena de Toro (Physical Education and Master in Physical Education), Cristina Cubedo (Finance and Accounting and Physiotherapy), Yenifer Giménez (Accounting), Lucía Gómez (Psychology and Master in Sports Psychology and Coaching), Ainoa Campo (Nursing), and Soldevila, Tere Morató (Physical Education, Master’s Degree in Physical Rehabilitation and Preparation and Master’s Degree in Sports Management), Claudia Iglesias (Psychology), Kayla McKenna (Cultural Anthropology and Master’s Degree in Public Health), Carmen Carbonell (Physiotherapy and Sports Science), Nerea Pérez (Primary School Teaching) and Queralt Gómez (Nursing and four related Master’s Degrees).