Brentford FC's 18-year-old Ross Montague has been awarded a professional contract - and coaches pupils starting out in their Centre of Excellence and Community Scheme.

Seventeen young players at Brentford FC have taken advantage of an Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence (AASE) since it began in 2004.

On the course, Ross spent 10 hours a week in college, studying fitness, nutrition and psychology for sports performance, and nine hours training on the pitch, plus weekly matches.

"This apprenticeship is my passport to a better career. Being a great footballer is not just about the practical side of playing the sport," says Ross.

"A professional sportsperson should also understand fitness and nutrition and have the opportunity to develop specialist skills in coaching or officiating, for example.

"This apprenticeship offers a grounding in all these skills.

"If I hadn't have been offered a permanent contract, I would have worked in another area of sport, so the skills I learnt would have been equally invaluable."

Currently, 82 of the 92 Premiership and Football League clubs in England and Wales, including top names such as Manchester United, Arsenal and Cardiff City, have taken the up the apprenticement.

About 1,200 youngsters are now doing the two-year course.

The AASE programme has been devised by football industry bosses with their Sector Skills Council, SkillsActive, which has worked with them to develop the training they need to realise club and player potential.

Traditionally, training has focused on footballing skills, without recognising the value of those skills off the pitch or the need to support them with qualifications that would benefit both athletes and sport in the longer term.

Barry Quin, Head of Youth Development at Brentford FC, says: "Employers in the sporting world are really taking the holistic responsibility for what happens to our talented young sportspeople and making a long-term investment in training.

"It helps ensure talented athletes can go on to have a career in the sport they love."