This article originally appeared in Future Sport magazine. Read the 2020 edition here.

How do you balance a career as an athlete alongside studying for a university degree? Many do it, yet we rarely hear how. Georgia Stevens, a media student at UCFB, and Jess Holland, a recent PE graduate, spoke with Future Sport to explain how they spilt their time between the pitch and classroom, how playing at a high level motivates them to study harder and their individual successes…

How long have you both been at your respective clubs and how did the opportunity come about?

Georgia: This is my first full season at Fylde after joining them on loan mid-way through last season. Having previously played for Blackburn Ladies (Fylde's rivals!) I knew of the standard they were at. I wanted to play at National League level again to try and get as much game time as I could under my belt and Fylde offered that. I've established myself more this season after being awarded the number nine shirt so there is definitely more responsibility and pressure on my shoulders, which at just 19 is something I'm very proud of. When you look at the set-up at the club, with Mill Farm as our stadium and training at the Education Centre, it's brilliant to be surrounded by that.

Jess: I am currently in my third season with Leeds United, which has gone so quickly! I joined Leeds after attending the open trials; since then I have been on two other trials each season to maintain my spot at the club. For me each season has been a fantastic achievement. Having the chance to represent Leeds United is a dream come true as I’ve been a big supporter of the club for many years.

Jess putting pen to paper for her beloved Leeds United.

How does and did your training and match day regime fit into your studying? What did you have to alter?

Georgia: Club training has never really changed through my transition into UCFB as it has always been in the evening, but as my personal training has stepped up I've certainly had to make alterations when the semester starts. Over the summer I was training twice a day, so as UCFB kicked in it meant early starts to fit in that morning session. On top of that, I've branched out and networked with different trainers I know and once a week I train at SportCity before my lectures which has been brilliant. I think I've realised this year how much of a blessing the Campus really is when you know how to use it, so being able to use the indoor and outdoor track with my coach has been brilliant.

Jess: For Leeds I train on a Tuesday and Thursday evening, which fitted in well with my studies, and we play our games on a Sunday. When I was playing for UCFB we trained on a Monday and played on a Wednesday, which meant I was able to play for both teams but it still meant I was playing football five days a week. So it’s a good job it is something I love!

What unique challenges has the balance of playing and studying thrown up which you weren’t expecting?

Georgia: I've been really fortunate that my lecturers have allowed me to make adjustments to cater for my football, but I think the biggest challenge has been managing the stress and pressure of football alongside the natural pressures we feel at UCFB with deadlines and assignments. I'm a pretty laidback individual and usually get most of my work done on time to save me any unnecessary stress, but with the increased pressures at football I've definitely felt it more at UCFB.

Jess: The main challenge was making sure all of my work at UCFB was completed during the days I was there as it was rare I had time outside of those hours to get work done. It was especially hard in third year due to all the work involving my dissertation, but I soon got used to it.

Georgia in action for Fylde Women.

How important is it to earn a degree at UCFB alongside your playing aspirations?

Georgia: It's vital for me to get my degree at UCFB. The way the women's game has been over the years has shown how important it is to have a plan B. All of the girls I play alongside at Fylde have another job or are studying and it's pretty much the same story in the Championship bar a few big-budget clubs, so it's crucial to be able to find work. On top of that, I've always valued education and I think studying at UCFB teaches you important life skills that you can't learn anywhere else; being able to work towards deadlines and under pressures prepares you for the real life world.

Jess: Whilst it was a struggle at times balancing my degree and my playing career, as well as having a part time job, my degree was a very important part of my life. It has been one of the proudest moments of my life being able to complete my time at UCFB, there were times it was very hard and I wanted to quit.

Playing at the level you both do, does it help to know the level of application and hard work needed to succeed in the football industry?

Georgia: Playing football at a high level has taught me how important it is to grab every opportunity that comes your way. It's also taught me the importance of planning, time management and working towards a goal. I'm a very goal-oriented person and that comes through as a player and a student. Learning how to set myself targets and goals for my career aspirations and studies has been a stepping stone for me. 

Jess: It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to be able to play for a club like Leeds United. It helps you to set your standards at a high level, work hard and be the best that you can be. This helped me with my studies as it helped me to realise that if I put in the hard work then I will do well and succeed.

Georgia, congratulations on being nominated for the Women’s Rising Star award at the 2019 North West Football Awards! How proud are you of that achievement and to be listed alongside the likes of Georgia Stanway?

Georgia: Thank you! Attending the awards was a goal of mine for the end of this season so to be doing it on the back of last season's performance is massive. I was immensely proud to even be nominated so to make it to the final four finalists is a massive achievement for me. To be listed alongside players from such high-profile clubs is a big deal for me personally but is also brilliant for Fylde.

Jess represented England at the FIF7 World Cup in 2019.

Jess, you represented England at the FIF7 World Cup in 2019. What was it like to represent your country on the world stage?

Jess: Representing my country was one of my proudest and biggest achievements yet. It was an honour to be able to represent England against big countries such as Brazil, Italy and Argentina. Being on that pitch with the rest of the girls, knowing that we were all doing our family, friends and country proud was such a big moment for us. Each time we went out on to the pitch we put our heart and souls into it and made sure we gave it our best.