Max Balard, after recently graduating with a double degree in Economics and Commerce earlier this month has even more personal milestones to celebrate, as the Central Coast Mariners emerged victorious in the A-League semi-final on Saturday night, defeating Adelaide United 2-0 (4-1 on aggregate), securing their spot in the A-League grand final for the first time in 10 years. 

Having spoken with Professional Footballer’s Australia last week, Balard's attributed his journey towards academic success to his family's emphasis on education from a young age. His dedication paid off when he completed his Higher School Certificate (HSC) at Freshwater Senior Campus, achieving an impressive ATAR score of 94.2. With several opportunities available to him, Balard made the decision to enrol in a double degree program at UNSW, focusing on economics and commerce. Throughout his time at university, Balard faced the challenge of striking a balance between his football commitments and academic responsibilities. Initially, as an Academy player, he managed his schedule well, training in the mornings and attending classes during the rest of the day. However, upon joining the A-League squad, his timetable became even more demanding, with training sessions extending until the afternoon. Despite the increased pressure, Balard remained determined and committed to finishing his degree, receiving invaluable support from his family, friends, and the club. Balard expressed his gratitude for the assistance he received, particularly from Helen Bryson and the Elite Athletes Program at UNSW. 

Max Balard in action against Adelaide United on the weekend

Now officially a university graduate, Balard reflects on the significance of his accomplishment. He believes that his degree will be a valuable asset throughout his life and career, enhancing his CV and providing him with a broader perspective beyond football. Completing his studies also allowed him to find a healthy balance in his life, allowing him to switch his focus from football when needed, thus positively impacting his overall well-being. When asked about advice for aspiring professional footballers, Balard emphasizes the importance of having a backup plan, whether it involves pursuing higher education or alternative forms of learning. He recognizes that a career in football can be unpredictable and short-lived, and having an additional avenue to fall back on provides security and personal growth. Balard encourages others to explore different educational opportunities, acknowledging that university is one option among many. 

Balard's achievements extend beyond his academic pursuits. As a central figure in the Central Coast Mariners' A-League campaign, he has played in 24 matches this season, showcasing his talent and contributing to the team's success. With the Mariners securing second place on the ladder, their highest finish in a decade, Balard's performances have played a vital role in their journey to the grand final. As he continues to excel in football, Balard's ambitions extend to representing the Olyroos and pursuing coaching badges, setting his sights on future endeavors beyond his playing career. 

Max Balard's story exemplifies the dedication, perseverance, and achievements of a remarkable individual who has successfully navigated the demands of both academia and professional football. His commitment to education, supported by the Elite Athletes Program at UNSW and the Central Coast Mariners, has allowed him to thrive on and off the pitch. Balard's journey serves as an inspiration to young players, emphasizing the importance of a balanced approach to life and the pursuit of diverse avenues for personal and professional growth.

We look forward to cheering on Max from the sidelines on June 3rd and hoping he can cap off an already incredible year in the coming weeks.

Professional Football Australia's Story on Max Balard