The Malta Independent 17 August 2019, Saturday

MATSEC 2020 reform: ‘Talented Athletes Scheme’ could shine a light on sports in Malta

Giulia Magri Tuesday, 16 July 2019, 09:08 Last update: about 2 months ago

Giulia Magri spoke to Amy Micallef, who at the age of 12 started taking swimming seriously and has trained every day since. She is on the Maltese National swimming team and is Age Group record breaker in 13 events. Amy has also recently finished her Bachelor in Science (Hons) in Sports and Physical Activity, where she focuses on the challenges Maltese student-athletes face whilst coping long training hours and education. She will also be competing in the FINA World Championships in Gwangju South Korea from 21to 28 July.

You have just finished your degree in B.SC in Sports and Physical Activity, and your own dissertation focuses on the difficulties student-athletes face whilst balancing training and education. Could you explain your dissertation in more detail?

My dissertation ‘The Challenges Faced by Maltese Student-Athletes in Coping with Dual Career’ explores the problems Maltese athletes face and how they overcome the difficulty of balancing their education and also achieving sporting success. I interviewed nine athletes, three who swim, three who do athletics and another three who compete in triathlon. When  I interviewed these athletes, I realised that the situation has become better since I was last in school, yet these participants still face challenges, mainly due to the fact that there is not enough awareness of what goes behind being a student-athlete.


I was inspired to delve into this topic, apart from the fact that I too have faced such challenges as a student-athlete. Back in my first year of University I had the opportunity to go to Spain for a conference focusing on a tutorship model for student athletes. At this particular University, student-athletes would be assigned their own personal tutors, who would be their direct contact for their course. Apart from having a direct contact, lecturers where also available online, so particular athletes with a tight training schedule could find their lecture notes online. I am aware that at our own University they had introduced a form where athletes could put in their training hours, but after this particular conference I was interested into looking into our own national system and the lives of Maltese student-athletes.


What was your own experience as a student-athlete?

I started taking swimming seriously back when I was 12, so at secondary school I wasn’t coping with training and also keeping up with learning two languages and two sciences, and of course extra course work for home. Back then, my school didn’t accept the idea of me dropping a subject, as some staff might see this as just laziness. Throughout my interviews, I was glad to see that this mentality has changed.

I also faced issues when I started Sixth Form. Since most of my training takes place at 6am, I would end up arriving late for my 8am lectures. In one particular case, a lecturer had asked me in front of the whole class why I was always missing the first part of the lecture and I had to explain that I was rushing from the pool to the college. It was embarrassing and I even tried to adjust a morning class so as to take a class in the afternoon instead. Even though I had done all the necessary paperwork, and both my parents and Swimming Association wrote a letter explain that I am a National Team swimmer presenting Malta, I still was not allowed to change my class.

University was different, since our course is mainly made up of athletes. The programme itself is catered so that we are able to attend both our training and the lectures.


What is your opinion on the proposed ‘Talented Athlete Scheme’?

I believe that this is a great step forward. Students find it difficult to balance sport and education, so hopefully now that their chosen sport can replace an intermediate will help youths to gain a balance between both. I believe it also shows student-athletes that they are supported and that the system is becoming more flexible and that there is more awareness. I don’t believe student-athletes should be prioritised over other students, but it is important that Sixth Form colleges have an idea that a student –athletes might have different commitments and challenges compared to their peers. 

The idea of having a dual career is that athletes can continue to gain an education, which is extremely important for when they retire. I believe that it is important that we do not just educate our student-athletes about the present, but also to prepare them for post-retirement, so that they will be able to have an easier transition into other forms of employment once they retire from their sports career. It is important that such programmes are introduced as some athletes who dedicate their life to sports may feel stuck when they have to take the next step, which they will take either out of choice or due to an injury, but at least they will be prepared.


Do you believe more students will be enticed to take up sports as a career?

There was a common theme whilst I was interviewing student-athletes, that they were worried they could not make a living out of sports. Somehow, we need to find ways for these students to take up the sport professionally, and give them much more support so that they can make a living out of it.

We need to bring up this awareness that student-athletes do not have to decide between sports or education, but that the two can be intertwined and hopefully this reform will help in this change in mentality.

From my own perspective, I think that as a nation it is difficult to understand that coaching can be taken seriously as a full-time job. Friends ask me what my plan is, and I explain to them that training and coaching is my goal and what I want to do. There are, of course, people who understand and it is important to have a support system -  your family and coaches, who will continue to push you and support you.


What more can be done for student-athletes?

I believe this reform will help greatly, and is the first step towards bringing more awareness on the value of sports. The mentality towards sports is changing, and people are more aware of how beneficial it is, not just physically, but how one can gain social and team building skills.

It is important that these student-athletes are supported and encouraged, because if we do not encourage them to be motivated, how will they then pass on their skills to others?

I also note that in Malta we really rush when it comes to gaining an education, whilst abroad, especially if you are an athlete, they prolong it. Our sixth form is an intense two years, and if someone feels they are struggling, especially those training long hours and then studying, there is nothing wrong with taking an extra year and hopefully we will discuss this much more.


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