What are football exit trials? How these potentially life-changing football camps really work

Chris Smalling Jamie Vardy exit trials
Chris Smalling and Jamie Vardy are the best examples of players making it through exit trials (Image credit: Getty Images)

Being told you’re not good enough to earn a professional contract is one of the most heart-breaking conversations any young footballer can have. But that doesn’t always have to be where the journey stops. 

Many young players find a route back into the game via assessment trials, also known as exit trials. 

“Assessment trials are for players who are coming to the end of their apprenticeships, who aren’t going to be kept on by their clubs for professional contracts,” Henry Westmacott, media officer at League Football Education (LFE), explained to FourFourTwo. 

Westmacott will run three events across the UK throughout May. 

“We help those players to find new opportunities.” 

The trials bring together hundreds of players seeking a second chance. The only eligibility requirements are that they’ve spent the previous season on the books of an EFL club, and that they are a PFA member. They even consist of technical drills and smaller and larger-sided games, with scouts in attendance. 

“Not quite every Football League club is present but the vast majority send someone down. We have Premier League and Scottish Premiership attendees, too. If they see somebody they like, they register their interest and we let the player know.” 

The LFE trials are perhaps the best known, but there are many others. These camps can be life-changing for players with perhaps the greatest examples being Jamie Vardy and Chris Smalling, who both took part in the process and later went on to win Premier League titles and earn England caps. 

“I was planning to go to university,” Smalling, who won the inaugural Europa Conference League with Roma last season, recalls of being released by Millwall as a teenager. The defender then popped along to assessment trials before being picked up by non-league Maidstone and sealing a move to Fulham. 

“I had nothing to lose and gave it my all. It worked out pretty well.” 

While Smalling ultimately decided against going to university, some players are driven towards higher education as a result of the trials. 

“The games are available to watch online, meaning we get overseas interest in many participants,” Westmacott says. “One growing outcome we’re seeing is young players being picked up by colleges in the US and earning scholarships to go over and study. It may not be what they were expecting to do in their careers, but it allows them to keep playing the game they love, as well as leave with a degree or diploma in their pocket at the end of it.” 

The coming weeks and months will see thousands of young footballers attempting to dazzle for a place in the professional game. Tune in… you may catch a glimpse of a future top-flight champion.

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Ed McCambridge
Staff Writer

Ed is a staff writer at FourFourTwo, working across the magazine and website. A German speaker, he’s been working as a football reporter in Berlin since 2015, predominantly covering the Bundesliga and Germany's national team. Favourite FFT features include an exclusive interview with Jude Bellingham following the youngster’s move to Borussia Dortmund in 2020, a history of the Berlin Derby since the fall of the Wall and a celebration of Kevin Keegan’s playing career.