Sheldon Jacobs

Graduate Buyer at BCF Technology.

Ex Professional Footballer and Scholarship Athlete. (Rangers FC, Livingston FC, Stirling University FC)

Tell us briefly about your career to date…

I started my professional career in football with Rangers FC from under 11 to under 15’s, before moving to Livingston at under 17’s and signed a full-time contract at under 19’s. I made my professional debut against Albion Rovers in a historic game along with my three brothers when Livingston were demoted to the third division. I then decided for a number of reasons to leave full-time football and pursue a business degree at Stirling University, whilst still playing football for the university as a scholarship athlete, allowing me to combine elite sport and education. 

How did you first get involved in the sport? And when did the opportunity come to join a professional club?

Growing up my whole family were heavily involved in pretty much all sports from cricket, swimming and athletics to football and golf. My dad was a professional footballer in South Africa for Wits University and this is where I got my passion for playing football! When moving to Scotland I started off playing for Murieston Football Club and this was probably the best boys club team in West Lothian at the time. Our team went on a three year unbeaten run and this is where we got the opportunity to play against professional teams such as Rangers. We ended up beating them 7-4 and pretty much the next week most of our players ended up being signed by them!

You have a famous family name within Scottish football!?

I certainly do! Growing up and progressing through the youth ranks at both Rangers and Livingston I have always played alongside my triplet brothers Kyle and Devon. We have played in a number of very successful teams, winning the under 19’s league three years in a row with Livingston FC and winning numerous cup competitions along the way.

When Livingston FC got demoted to the third division it gave the club the opportunity to feature a lot of it’s young, emerging talent. This presented my brothers and I the opportunity to all play together in the same team. This made a bit of history as it was the first time four brothers had ever featured in the same team in a competitive match!

What was it like, to train and play as a professional athlete, with and against some of the country’s brightest talents?

Signing full-time for Livingston FC and having the football lifestyle was very enjoyable and rewarding. I played and trained with and against numerous top class players such as Robert Snodgrass, Graham Dorrans and Leigh Griffiths. Training with players of such high class and calibre was very challenging and a learning curve. But as all professional athletes will tell you, playing with and against quality players also makes you raise your standards and game as a player. 

To date, what’s been your biggest sporting achievement?

To date my biggest achievement must be making my debut for Livingston FC, playing alongside my three brothers, which as I mentioned made footballing history, which the whole family is proud of!

Having completed a degree as a scholarship athlete, at what point in your career did you make the decision to combine football with education? And how were you able to manage both together?

I made the decision to combine football with education in my last year at under 19’s with Livingston. I got offered a first team contract but also had many unconditional offers to attend university which I had already deferred for a year. At the time of having to make this hard decision, I felt that I wasn’t as much involved in first team affairs so decided to go to Stirling University as it gave me the opportunity to combine education and continue playing at a high level. Whilst I was at Livingston, I continued education whilst playing full time which is what made university an option for me. 

Attending university and combining football with education was probably one of the best decisions I have made. I found combining education with football pretty manageable as I am a very well organised person who likes to keep on top of things. The workload actual is very manageable, and I really enjoyed learning new things!

The transition from elite sport to the professional world must have been difficult?

Moving from professional football into the professional world was probably the hardest decision of my life. I have always played football at an elite level, and wanted to play football as my profession. But for a number of reasons, the reality of having a successful career as a professional footballer, with longevity and security is extremely slim. So looking back, I am really glad for the decisions I made. 

The main challenge for me was trying to adapt to the professional world and the education side of things having been out of education for a number of years. I was lucky with the support of my mum, partner and brothers; alongside a few of the lecturers at university who helped ease this transition process. Then moving into the business world, the help of family and friends enabled me to be where I am today. Working as a Graduate Buyer for BCF Technology. 

Not everyone will be fortunate enough to have the people I had to support me through this transition, so something like The Transition Phase is exactly what athletes can benefit from and utilise. 

Tell us….what is it your doing now?

I now work for a company called BCF Technology as a Graduate Buyer. BCF make and sell ultrasound scanners and x-ray machines for the veterinary market….Very different from Livingston FC!

I started working for BCF as a summer placement in my third year at university. I had to go through a full interview process and was lucky enough to be offered a full-time contract after this three month period. 

Sounds great!…Having made this move, what has your professional playing experience given you that you are now applying in your current role?

Growing up as a professional athlete has given me numerous skills applicable to the business world. For example, playing football involves a lot of team work, communication and people skills, and the ability to work daily under pressure. All these skills are used in pretty much every business, and everyday life for me at BCF. 

BCF look to employ people who are able to not only work as an individual but as a team member as well. People skills and communication is vital in the role I have, as I am always communicating with suppliers, dealing with internal and external stakeholders that rely on my skills and ability to get things done. If I don’t perform, this affects BCF’s overall performance and reputation, so it is challenging and pressurised but that’s what I love about it, and my time in elite sport has given me the skills to be able to thrive at BCF.

Many people haven’t had this kind of experience so I think it can make a real difference. It has certainly helped me perform at BCF.

So, our next question is….How do you think elite level athletes can transfer their success to business?

Having played with a number of successful teams and always looking to strive for the best, I feel that elite level athletes can transfer their success to the business world. With football, I have come from such a competitive team environment, which has enabled me now to compete effeciently in all education and business. Moreover, the team aspect involved within football has allowed me to easily build relationships with work colleagues and likewise deal with people from different walks of life. 

Last question! Any advice for athletes who may be in a similar situation to you a few years ago? 

The advice I would give to professional athletes who are making the transition into the professional world is to be yourself and to take the skills learned in elite sport, such as teamwork, communication, dedication and resilience with you and to use it to your advantage. Employers nowadays are looking for people who “fit” their organisation. So, it is vital to be yourself and to show all the mental skills that made you successful in sport, and emphasise how these make you different to others.