When Central Coast Mariners midfielder Max Balard has not been staring in our midfield over the past few seasons, the twenty-two-year-old has been busy getting an education.
Balard officially graduated with a double degree in Economics and Commerce after four years at UNSW on Wednesday, striking a balance between learning in the classroom and learning on the pitch.
Since he was young, the midfielder’s family have always placed an emphasis on ensuring that he received an education.
“My parents always told me that if I were to play football after school I had to keep my grades up. So that happened from a young age at school and I always made sure that my grades were good to end up being allowed to go play football in the afternoons,” Balard said.
“I ended up finishing my HSC at Freshwater Senior Campus and got an ATAR of 94.2. From there I had a few opportunities and decided to do a double degree in economics and commerce at UNSW.”
The extra time spent at University meant that the youngster had to find a balance, fitting in football along with his class work. It was easier in the beginning when Balard was an Academy player, training early in the mornings and going to university throughout the rest of the day.
Moving into the A-League squad meant that this timetable changed, resulting in the final two years of his course being even more congested.
“I would train from nine o’clock to maybe three o’clock, then have classes from four until six. I had dinner then maybe worked a bit more on assignments after that at nights. It was pretty full on, but it was worth it,” he said.
“Even when we were in Vanuatu during the World Cup break, the boys managed to go to the Blue Lagoon, but unfortunately I had a meeting to attend on my final exam. I wasn’t able to go, but those are the little sacrifices you have to make to make it all possible.”
It was not always easy for Balard, especially after becoming a regular starter for the A-League side. He opted to persevere and ensure that he finished his degree, with the help of family, friends and the club.
“I definitely thought about it, but I had already completed two years of university and I decided it’d be best to push it out, just work hard to grind it out for the next two years. The club was so supportive of it and the university were amazing with it, too. They understood that I had my football commitments and that I was a rising player in the A-League,” Balard said.
“Monty and Serge helped me get my scholarship at the University, the Ben Lexcen Sports Scholarship. Without them, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get that scholarship which helped me get into the Elite Athlete Program.
“That made it more flexible with football. Dobbo helped out with supporting documents whenever I had an exam on a game day or when I needed to be training. He helped push it back to another time that was more suitable. The club has been really supportive of it.”
Now officially a university graduate, Balard is pleased that he stuck with the course. The midfielder even believes that it may have actually helped him as a footballer.
“I will always have that degree with me from now on, it is a great thing to have on your CV. It was also a good thing to be able to get my mind off football, it was a good balance that helped me overall balance out my life,” he said.
“I’m really happy that I got it done in the end and managed to finish it in four years.”
When asked for advice to give to young players aiming at making it as a professional footballer, Balard believes that everyone should try and have a backup plan, whether it is university based or not.
“Football, as they say, is a pretty short career. I hope that mine will be a long one, but you never know what can happen in football. So, it’s always good to have a backup and whether it’s University or TAFE or another form of education, it’s always important to have something that you can fall back on,” he said.
“If you put too much trust in your football things can go wrong very easily or you may even fall out of love with football so it’s good to have a good balance. I’m really thankful that I did that and it worked out really well for me. I highly recommend looking into different forms of education, not necessarily university but it is a great one as well.”